When writing a story the first elements to pop into a writer’s mind are: plot, character, motivation, theme and audience. Very few realize that there’s on key element which can have many uses, for the better or worse of the story and characters.
A setting is more than just where a story takes place. It can be a sanctuary or a tartarus, or neutral territory for the character(s). Setting can be an obstacle or a character itself with its own unique fit to the story.
Harry Potter would have turned out differently if Hogwarts was a decrepit castle. Or if the school was a camouflaged building in London. Frodo and Sam would have faced different challenges if their journey to Mordor went through a desert instead of a swamp.
For better stories, and better settings, think of each setting like a character. Ask it tough questions. Why is it ramshackle? Why not well kept? Why medieval and not modern? Why does this/these characters come here? What does the setting do for each one or the story itself?
A setting will do more for a character who knows the place than a character who doesn’t. If all characters are strangers to the setting this it’s neutral territory, but the setting itself can stile a friend or enemy. Like a mama dragon who’s annoyed at her two babies fighting on her back. She could fall back asleep and her natural movement help or hinder different chicks. Or she turns so they fall off, or she could wake up and roar at them.
A jungle setting will give different obstacles and assists than the arctic. A modern, well-kept house will provide differently than an old abandoned house. There will be different ups and downs if the characters are at the setting in spring than if autumn.
Ask the hard questions and the setting will be just as alive, important and integral as the characters.
Full honesty, it took a while to come up with an idea for a first post. But that’s how stories start. A bunch of “maybe”s, “not quite”s, and “what if”s. Then I realized I was thinking of the idea, getting the idea.
The truth and fact is that ideas are everywhere. 24/7/365. The trick is to spot the ideas. Whether they’re standing still, walking past or spring on you from nowhere. Maybe it’s the way the branches bent toward a window like an evil monster. The strange map-like pattern of freckles on that guy’s neck, or the flier in the lobby.
Spotting the ideas is only part of the process. I’m not talking about writing them down. I’m talking about getting everything you can from that one idea. Let’s go back to freckle-map. First, is the person in our world or a different world? Young or old? To what/where does the map lead? What kind of map is it? What will this treasure do if evil finds it? Does the person know they have the map on them? Is the map only visible as long as they’re alive? Can it be copied to paper? Can anyone read it? Is the map actually on a person or is it carved into dungeon wall? The back of a mirror? Bus roof? Is the map in one piece or several?
Grilling the idea will kick your imagination into high gear and give you everything for a fun, dimensional story. Little warning, don’t assume that once you’ve finished questioning the idea that it’s the end of the idea. No matter where you are, what you’re doing or what time it is, the idea will still grow and develop with elements and twists for you to sort and shape.
An initial idea of a sweet old neighbor having a gate tot hell in her basement could evolve to a story about a sweet old neighbor being an elusive serial killer who’s hunting down the tools and pieces to build a gate to hell so she can bring back her family, who died because of a prior dark magic attempt.
The point of any idea, however small the initial concept, is to keep asking questions. Question everything about it. Human protagonist or dwarf? Castle or village? Why castle, why not castle? Why doesn’t/can’t the character call such-and-such for information? Why does what’s her face want in on the quest so bad? The more you ask, the more your idea will grow. Get all the answers from your head, down your fingers, onto the page. Then step one is done.
My name’s Addison Hall and this is my blog.
In this blog I’ll be posting tips, suggestions and rants about writing stories, with a focus on fantasy.
I’ll be adding to the site regularly, something new with every blog. It could be a good, bad, happy, angry or perplexed piece on characters, setting, plot, voice, anything.
This is the place for you.
So get comfortable. Fill your hot chocolate, sink into your favorite chair and don’t blink. ‘Cause seriously, there’s no telling what you’ll miss when you fall into my world.
Here we go!