Don’t Skimp on Setting

So, I got an email this morning from a semi-local school about doing an author talk to their kids in November, and it first it was like, Hey! Cool! Someone thinks I’m neat! But now that I’ve looked at it closer, it seems to be meant for another author (one who actually writes children’s books and so makes infinitely more sense than me, who writes mostly adult fantasy). So now I’m left to wondering–did they get the wrong email for a parent and/or teacher? Did they BCC a bunch of other authors in case the original one is not available and/or interested? Should I respond? Should I leave it be?

And if I was just accidentally emailed, what are the odds that it be by someone local looking for someone of my profession?

Questions, questions.

In other news, Turtleduck Press will again be taking up residence in the Author’s Row at MileHiCon in Denver, Colorado at the end of October. I shall be about for most/all of the weekend if you are a Coloradoan or close to Colorado and want books/sigs/landsquid, etc. In addition, TDP’s newest anthology, featuring space princesses (eeeeee), will be out on Nov 1, so we’ll probably have something special for that at the con. Or I’ll at least draw you a space princess if you bring something for me to draw on.

Right, now that that’s done with, let’s talk about setting. Poor setting. I think it gets glossed over and forgotten by a lot of authors. I certainly used to be that way. What did it really matter where a story took place? Stick it in a generic school or forest or cruise boat and get on with the action and the mystery and the suspense, right?

Luckily, I’ve learned better, though I will admit it took me longer than it should have. At first glance, setting seems like a backdrop. Just a stage for your story to take place on. I’d like to think that was me just being young and inexperienced, unaware of how different people could be from  me and how people lived differently throughout the world.

Your setting does three important things:

  • It creates your characters
  • It creates your world
  • It creates your plot

First off, characters. Characters are characters, right? What does setting have to do with them? Well, where your character grows up affects them as a person. Someone living in a crowded, rundown tenement is going to have different experiences and a different viewpoint than someone who was born on a spaceship and has never been planetside, than someone who grew up in a comfortable house in the countryside. People–and characters–are created by their environment, and your setting sets up a lot of a character’s background and, hence, their characterization.

World is probably obvious. Your setting is part of your worldbuilding, along with language, customs, economy, geography, etc. But a society that lives high in the mountains and has to mine water from clouds is going to need different worldbuilding than a culture that lives in a bubble under the sea. Not only that, a well-thought out setting will have things unique to it, things that directly inform culture and society, and your world will seem richer and deeper when those things are pulled into your story.

Plot! The great thing about setting is that sometimes it can pull in plot and subplot elements. Going back to the well-thought out setting mentioned above, the setting itself can provide inspiration for conflict, and not just the “Dear God, we’ve got to get over this mountain to the valley beyond where the only remaining magical healing plants grow,” though that’s certainly something to do with it. But if you’ve determined a resource is short, different groups of people could fight over it. Or your character needs something, but it’s only located in their enemy’s territory. Or your character is very tall yet all the doorways in your setting are very short, because the people who lived there memories ago only came up to your character’s chest.

I’ve heard it said that your setting is almost another character, a living, breathing entity that grows and changes.

So don’t skimp on your setting. It’s what makes your world real, what gives your story life.

Thoughts on setting, Squiders? What do you think I should do about the school email?

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2 responses to this post.

  1. I think you should engage with the school and see if there is a topic you can land upon. Setting is important, but there is a limit to it too. I’ve read pages of majestic mountains and setting suns, complete with clouds that look like unicorns. There is a limit to how much is needed.

    Reply

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