Saturday, June 22, 2013

Setting your setting

Let's play a game of, "Where Am I?"

First round!

This forest is so bizarre. I don't know quite what to make of it. It's so unlike any forest I've ever seen. The trees go this way and that, in no particular direction. Look at those giant toadstools. What colours they are! Those flowers are quite humungous too. Wait a minute... are those faces on them? Where am I?!

Did you guess Wonderland? If you did, you are correct! If you didn't... please leave this blog immediately.

Second round!

From the outside, the castle is even more immense than I could have imagined. Its towers nearly touch the sky! It overlooks an endless stretch of sea from the edge of a high cliff. It's almost as if it could fall off at any moment! But it won't. Just by looking at it, I can tell it has been here for countless years. Through the huge oak doors is a great hall with an elegant staircase made of marble. On either side, the walls are adorned with portraits of people--who move around inside the frames! Where am I?

That's an easy one. You better have said Hogwarts!

Third round--for all the marbles!

 My friends and I are following a beaming brick road made of golden yellow. We've been on this path for what seems like days. Just as I start to think there's no end to it at all, the most brilliant sight unfolds ahead of us in the distance. The thick forest gives way to a sprawling meadow of bright turquoise and pink, but that isn't the most wonderful part. On the horizon stands a city of emerald green! Its luster sparkles under the sun as if it was actually made up of the precious stone. Its many towers reach high into the sky, shimmering under the most gorgeous of rainbows. Where am I?

Sort of  gave that one away. It's Emerald City!

So, if you haven't guessed, this little game was to highlight the importance of setting to a story. When we think about creating the "world" of a story, we're thinking entirely of setting. Sure, things happen in the story. There are characters and they have actions. But they only exist because a setting allows them to. Setting is where the rules of your world are created. The best part about it is, as authors, we are the creators of those rules. Our settings are only limited by our imaginations. We can even change them on the fly! In a sense, we are the cosmic beings of our stories.

Unfortunately, coming up with your setting isn't easy. Even the most imaginative of writers can struggle with it. Here are a few tips to help you find inspiration in your setting.

  • Use a location from your childhood.

When I was writing a middle-grade novel, I always had one place in particular in mind for the central location of my story. It was based on a house I spent a lot of time in as a kid. Our childhoods are rife with interesting places. At least, we thought they were interesting at the time. Channel your kid or teen self and tap into that moment when you thought that particular place was awesome (or scary!).

  • Go to a unique landmark in your city.
In my city there is a cool little park that has a life-size mock-up of the witch's candy-coated house from the fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. You can go inside and see the poor children trapped in a cage as the witch prepares to cook them. Sometimes for inspiration I like to go sit on a bench outside the witch's house and just write. It's amazing how just being in an interesting place can get the creative juices flowing. This is the best time to strike gold with ideas for your setting.

  •  Surround yourself with nature.
It's no coincidence that many stories, fantasy ones in particular, have settings based in some sort of natural environment (forests, caves, rivers, etc.). Not only are they easy to describe, but they are also easy for the reader to visualize. If there's a park where you live, go there and write. Stare up at the trees and imagine your story taking place there. My favorite place in the world to write is in the mountains. I did it once and it was the most inspiring writing session I ever had!

  • Think of a place you hate and turn it on its head!
 Absolutely hate your sixth period classroom? How about that musty room in your grandparents' house? The break room at your job, perhaps? Hate and misery are excellent sources of creativity! Harness that by using those dreaded locations... only, spruce them up a little. Maybe with some lava. Or tornadoes. Yes, tornadoes would do nicely.

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