Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Weekend Writer: Hunting For Your Story With Setting

Okay, before we broke for Easter, we were hunting for our story using character. By "story," we mean something that happens to somebody and its significance. Sometimes the "idea" that moves us to write something isn't that actual story but merely a scene or situation.  The theory we're working with here (and which helped me to write my last two, granted unpublished, books) is that developing the elements of fiction--character, setting, point of view, theme, and plot--can generate the material that will finally make the story, the something that happens to somebody and so what, clear. And once we know the story, we go back to the elements again and develop them still more. It's a back and forth process.

So, this week, we will talk about setting. Why? How can setting help us come up with ideas for what might happen to characters and what that event might mean? Because certain things can only happen in certain places. So once you have setting pinned down, you're in a better position to start thinking about what could happen there and to whom it could happen.

And, remember, setting isn't just about location. It's also about time. Thus, if you're thinking about a setting in the past, that will help to narrow down what can happen in that time. It will help to narrow what kinds of characters can exist then. If you're thinking about a setting in the future, it will broaden what can happen there or who can exist there. Or will it? Got to think about that one.

If you're thinking about working in genre, a setting in a fantasy world or on a space station impacts to a huge degree what kinds of things will be able to happen in your story. A setting in a culture at war vs. in a twenty-first century high school or office will mean very different events and characters. Or, again, will it? Hmm. Deep.

Think about sense of place while developing this material. Think about world building.


Jeannine Atkins said...

I'm excited that you're thinking and writing about this! I'm actually running a workshop on Friday of the NESCBWI conference on using setting to help structure fiction.

One of my favorite pieces about setting is Katherine Paterson's "Where is Terabithia?" which is in some of her essay collections.

Gail Gauthier said...

Over the years I've done a lot of thinking about plot, because it's difficult for me. That led me to try backing into plot by developing other elements of fiction, such as setting, first. And then I've been dwelling on the whole issue of just what is a story for the same reason. In the past, I've often begun writing not knowing what my story was going to be, a clear sign of an organic writer. I'd rather not do that, which is a lot of what The Weekend Writer is turning into--a way for me to learn to write more efficiently.

Since it was supposed to be an opportunity to help very inexperienced writers learn something about process, I'm still doing the organic thing.