A Writing Journey

Posts tagged ‘setting’

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 2: The Setting

Welcome to the second post in my series “Reclaiming Fantasy.”If you haven’t read the introductory post, it is available here.

Now, before we get started a brief explanation. I call this series “Reclaiming Fantasy” because I think there has been a major loss – a blurring of all the fantasy books into one story with the same plot, setting, and characters. In addition, I was browsing Amazon yesterday, and saw that many books that have been considered Science Fiction by everyone I’ve talked to are now classified as Fantasy.

Today I will be discussing the most basic element of any story: setting.

Many fantasy novels, whether from new writers or established authors, pick similar settings. These settings include rolling hills, plains, mountains, and forests. Sometimes the ocean is thrown in for effect. But there is a problem here. In too many of the books I’ve read, the setting isn’t important. In too many novels, the plains could be swapped for the desert or the desert for the forest. Setting should be it’s own character and should be integral to the plot. It’s like giving your character a loaded gun, but not using it. The setting needs to have a purpose.

Robin Hobb did an excellent job of giving the setting a purpose in the Farseer Trilogy (Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin’s Quest). In the trilogy, the main character grows up in a coastal town. The ocean drives the plot forward, as raiders from the Outislands seek to start a war with the Six Duchies.

Another example is in Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith. In this story, it is an element of the setting, the colortrees, that serve to drive the plot forward. When the king ignores the agreements not to cut down the colortrees, a band of rebels in the mountains where these trees grow have to fight back to protect the trees.

Admittedly, both of these stories have settings that could be switched and the plot tweaked to accommodate them. The point, however, is that these authors have taken the time to make the setting important. Just think, in reality our surroundings shape us as we shape them, they are integral to who we are, and what we become. It should be no different in fantasy.

When writing, think about why the environment is the way you’ve made it. If there’s no reason, play with it, make it different, or at least let it impact your character’s lives. In one of my WIP’s, the characters hole up in a fishing village. The village has to be entirely self-sufficient because they are at odds with the governing party. This means that the environment they live in has a huge impact on what foods they eat, what kinds of clothes they make, and how they interact with each other.

Of course, there is more to the setting being important than how it is right now. The way the environment shaped things to get to the present is just as important. There is an excellent post at SF/F Worlds discussing this point exactly. The post discusses how evolution is important even in fantasy, and how there have to be decent explanations for the creatures and peoples of the fantasy worlds – and it comes back to the understanding how the setting shapes everything.

My point is, let’s skip the typical medieval European setting and get something new.

Take care, fellow travelers.

Friday Inspiration

Until my recent internet-fast, I spent a lot of time on Pinterest. Especially when I was sick of job-searching or (while I was still in college) procrastinating, I could spend over an hour scrolling through pins. On the one hand, I recognize this as rather unhealthy behavior, but on the other hand I found so many neat things – especially picture from around the world.

I have loved to travel ever since I started going on camping trips with my family when I was in second or third grade (or maybe it was earlier – all those years blur together). As I got older, I started going on weekend girl-scout trips and then out-of-state trips with my drama group. I’ve been abroad with my family and with classes. I love travel, and Pinterest gives me so many ideas for places I want to go (thought to be frank the next place I’m going is the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff – I just have to earn the money for it!), and better yet it gives me ideas for places that characters ought to go.

Yes, I write fantasy and therefore the places my characters go will never be real places, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t use them as inspiration! For example this:

Can you imagine doing something like that? What about your characters? What if the end of their quest is at the end of the trail? Or the villain! If it was my protagonist, she’d be shaking in her boots and the fight against the villain would probably not go so well.

But what about setting? There are some gorgeous places around the world, places that I would never be able to adequately describe, but could see in my mind for certain locations in books (not just my own writing, but published books too). Places like this:

Or this:


My point is, even if you can’t travel, you can be inspired. Don’t settle for the same-old settings that all fantasy writer’s rely on. Browse the internet for interesting places. Find something that pumps you with adrenaline just looking at it, or makes your heart soar. (Stay tuned for more on setting – Monday’s post will be devoted to it).

What exciting places have you been to? Do you find new places (or pictures) inspiring?

Take care, fellow travelers.

Note: The first two images came from Pinterest, and if you are familiar with that at all then you know sometimes a direct source cannot be located.  The first one is supposed to be from a wordpress site, but I couldn’t access it. The second had no source available. The third is a picture that I took in the town where I went to college.

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