For today’s twin Thursday post with Rachel from Undivinelight, we’re looking again at setting. Or, more specifically, how we go about building one.
World and setting is a big thing for me. I won’t say it’s the most important part of the story, but it certainly plays a big role in how much enjoyment I take from a novel. That applies both to the worlds I read and the worlds I write.
So, where do I start? Usually, my stories start from a prompt of some kind, an image, a line of dialogue, a concept or neat mechanic that I want to play with. And the world unfolds from there. For example, the story I’m going to be working on for this spring’s Camp NaNoWriMo started from an offhand thought about–of all things–Fifty Shades of Grey. I had a fleeting idea about magic arising from a dom/sub relationship, and then I built the magic system and social ladder by extrapolating upon that concept.
For physical setting details–language, music, climate–I often use a historical template to get the feeling that I’m going for. Once I have an image of the sort of feel I want the culture to have, I look for existing analogues that I can take inspiration from. The story I mentioned above, for example, has a somewhat ancient Greek or Mediterranean atmosphere to it. That means research, and usually a loooot of it. How fast can a horse travel over rocky slopes? What sort of metal and ore would be available to a culture like this one? What livestock and crops and fibers and building materials?
Once I have a loose framework for the immediate physical setting and culture, I start doing short drabbles or fluff pieces to get into my protagonist’s mind. I like to let their understanding of their world flavor the text so that the remaining gaps are filled in organically. A prince will feel very differently about their lot in life than a pig farmer will, and they’ll both give me tidbits about the setting that I otherwise wouldn’t have come up with.
After I have a good feel for both the characters and the setting comes the hard part. Writing the book.