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Get Set: Getting to Know Your Setting #ReadySetWrite

Monday, February 9, 2015

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Getting to Know Your Setting | KayeDacus.comLast week, we discussed backstory and the importance of knowing the backstory of your setting, in addition to your characters. But now it’s time to get to know your setting even more intimately.

Getting to Know Your Setting

1. Your Story World: Where does your story take place? Go from the broad (Planet Earth) to the narrow (the Woodbine neighborhood of Nashville) to the specific (77 Elberta Street).

The diverse architecture in downtown Nashville (source)

The diverse architecture in downtown Nashville (source)

2. Houses, Buildings, Architectural Styles: This is easier if you’re using a real setting vs. a fictional setting. But it’s still important to do research on the correct terms for the types of buildings/houses and their architectural styles, even if you’ve lived in the place where your story is set your entire life. A neighborhood developed in the 1880s isn’t going to be filled with Craftsman style houses; nor is one built in the 1980s going to be filled with mid-century modern styles. One of the things that makes a story seem more immediate is detail. What detail can you discover about the buildings in your setting that you can include in your notes WHETHER OR NOT YOU USE IT IN YOUR ACTUAL STORY?

3. Landscapes, Climates: What does your story world look like? What are the geographic features? What is the weather like? No, you’re not necessarily going to include all of this in your story, but you, the author, need to know as much about this as possible so that you don’t have it snowing on Thanksgiving in Brownsville, Texas. If you’re creating a fantasy/sci-fi world, this is of VITAL importance to know before you start writing.

My rough, hand-sketched map of Bonneterre

My rough, hand-sketched map of Bonneterre

4. Maps: Either collect maps (you can use the PrtScr/Print Screen button on your PC keyboard to capture an image of your screen and then paste it as an image in PowerPoint or Publisher, crop away whatever you don’t need (double click on the image and then the crop button will be on the toolbar), and the save it as an image you can use anywhere else (right click on the image and select Save as Picture…). Make sure to save it as a .jpg file for universality of use. If you’re creating your own setting (real world or fantasy/sci-fi), create your own maps, because that’s the best way to remember where you put those houses/buildings from #2.

5. Terminology: Is there a unique terminology to your setting? For example, when I was writing the Ransome series, I had to keep lists of all of the different parts of the ships and sails. Be specific with these (schooner rather than ship; jigger staysail instead of sail, etc.).

6. Historical Background: What’s the history of your storyworld? For those of us writing in either real or fictional cities set in familiar countries (like the US), this isn’t as hard as for those creating their own countries/worlds. But it is important to know why, for example, a person of color might be treated differently in Selma, Alabama, than in Detroit, Michigan, even in the year 2015.

7. Culture and Customs: What are the unique cultures and customs of your story world? “Nashville” has one connotation to the outside world, and a very different one to those of us who live here (and to those who live in different areas of Nashville. What’s culture/custom for me living in Woodbine might be completely different from culture/custom for a 20something hipster living in downtown. What festivals and other celebrations take place in your city? (And what does it mean when someone in Nashville calls CMA Fest “Fan Fair”—or even CMApocalypse?) How do people greet each other? Do they make eye contact and speak with strangers (Nashville), or do they avoid it if at all possible (Washington DC)?

8. Language, Accent, and Regional Slang: Whether real-world or fantasy/sci-fi, people are going to have different vernacular based on their region, their local culture/customs, and their backgrounds.

9. Social/Government Organization: More important for fictional/otherworldly story settings, but it’s good to know what would happen if a character breaks a social taboo or a law (and knowing what those social taboos and laws are).

10. Daily Life: This includes fashion/dress/style, manners, diet, calendar, customs, etc. Again, this is less consuming if you’re writing contemporary/real-world settings, but still something everyone needs to consider when developing your settings.

11. IMAGES, IMAGES, IMAGES: Collect images of settings that inspire, floorplans/images from real estate sites of your characters’ homes, images of the city or countryside or landscape, and so on. This is a great time to employ Pinterest—and you can use a private board if you don’t want to share with the rest of the world just yet.

Learn more about developing your setting here.

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