Muse Monday 2 – The Character of Setting

Hello! I’m back for another Muse Monday post! Since my plan is to place these stories in the same setting, I thought I would work from a writing prompt based on Setting. I am using one from the book Now Write! called “The Character of Setting.” Which says: “Think of one long paragraph. Introduce the character in the first sentence, and then describe the setting. Return to the character only at the end of the paragraph.”

Mr. Remy stepped out of his stateroom, looking for his wife. He looked in either direction, seeing the long hall stretch out before him. Middle of the ship: near symmetry in either direction. Pods of doors, with numbers, names on little placards, and the occasional balloons and celebration. Here, an anniversary, there a birthday, there a wedding. Ah, and then the wedding party. Between the pods, open doors in the halls, the sort that would close in an emergency. Up ahead, a break in the doors: the stairs. The center of the ship, with a short hall for service elevators, and then, a larger bay. Here are the main stairs, and main elevators. From here, up leads to food, to swimming, to sun. Down from here leads to the main dining rooms, but before that, the Piazza, the atrium: the shopping. Well, and more food: food wherever you turn. If she had been hungry, he would never be able to figure out where she went. He saw no sign she had changed to her swimsuit: shopping it was, and down he went.

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W – Writer’s Block

WAh, Writer’s Block. That scourge of writers the world over. I suppose. Is it though? What are some of the elements of Writer’s Block?

For me, the very first and major hurdle of Writer’s Block is how to start. I, like many writers I imagine, have a number of stories mapped out in my head, notes hidden around in margins, on smart phones, tablets, writing programs. When do you know enough? About your characters, your setting? Do you understand it all? Have you read enough to know that no one else has already written your story? And how do you hook your readers?

This is a hard wall to get past, for sure. As best I understand, at some point you just have to start. For me, that’s still a work in progress.

Once you’re going, maybe you started too soon! Oh no, how do you resolve this part? Describe this scene? How do you convey to your readers exactly what you feel when you think about it? Or maybe you know time needs to pass, but don’t know what might happen between where you’re coming from and where you’re going. Maybe you need to give another character some time in the sun, but aren’t sure what to have happen.

Or maybe Writer’s Block is just your excuse – your excuse for having a life, for letting time get away from you, for not being as diligent in writing as you feel like you ought to be. Because while the largest category is likely the books never written, there is still very likely a very large selection of books started but unfinished. It’s an easy trap to fall into. It’s life.

And then there’s towards the end, you have a written story! But you’re editing. Thinking it through, revising. Have you developed your voice enough? Have you used good language to convey your points and story? And is it something unique, something that hasn’t been written before? Is it something new under the sun?

At some point you have to let it go, have to decide it’s good enough. Not everyone can be J.K. Rowling or George Lucas and edit their works after they’re already published. But before you reach that point, you can likely hit the hardest road blocks, the most doubt: is it good enough? Will anyone, in their right mind – or at least the mind they bring to the table on the day they’re making the decision – publish it? Would you even self-publish it yourself? As you might be your hardest critic, after all.

I can see a lot of things we might mean by Writer’s Block. Once I get going, in a single session, I tend not to stop when writing – I tend to flow. For me, the trouble is getting started, is having the time, is taking the time. How about you? Any Writer’s Block stories or tips to share? Venture forth to the comments below! Can’t think of what to comment about? Writer’s Block strikes again!

U – Understanding

U

Okay, so on the one hand, this seems like me reaching for something that starts with U for the A to Z Challenge. On the other hand, this is one of the ones that made some of the most sense to me.

The famous quote is, of course, Write What You Know. Because in so many ways, writing is taking what you know, and making it so it’s a thing the reader knows. Maybe they won’t know all of it – maybe they’ll only take a quote away. Nonetheless, you’re adding to what they know.

However, as you may have noticed, I am a fan of science fiction and fantasy – genres that are impossible if you take a literal interpretation of “Write What You Know.” Only a handful of people would be qualified to write about travel in space. No one has been to Middle Earth (except apparently anyone who has been to New Zealand). And yet, these works can be written, and read, and understood.

So that is the crux of the matter: it’s about understanding. The writer should understand what they are including in their book: understand the language they are using, understand the grammar and words; understand the characters they are including, their psychology and experiences; understand the setting and the things that happen there, whether that’s the climate or how the people fight or what they eat for breakfast.

And maybe you don’t have to know all of those things. And certainly you don’t have to have experienced them all yourself. But the writer should have an understanding of these things – whether that comes from education, research, reading, experiences, talking to people or experts, or wild extrapolation.

Because when you understand it, and put it in such that it makes sense and is believable, your readers will get it too. Not to say all writing must be realistic in that it is only real things that happen; however, the things that happen should be internally consistent, should have a realism within the world they are in. Whether that’s how alien technologies work or magic systems or biology or computer software (No click enhance! Bad!). By understanding these things happening, you can create that consistency, make things make sense, and have their own logic. And then your readers will understand, too.

What do you think? Write What You Know? How much do you need to understand? Let me know in the comments down below!

S – Setting

SI talked about the essential nature of characters earlier on in the A to Z Challenge, so I felt like it was good to talk about another important element most any story – written or unwritten – has to it. And that is the Setting. We are, all of us, impacted by the places we have been, have grown up in, and know about. Whether those impacts are societal, economic, linguistic, or story-worthy, we are all impacted by place. If characters are so pivotal, it follows that place impacts them as well, and should be taken seriously as well.

It can be easy to take the setting for granted, maybe especially in realistic sorts of writing. Set your story in a known place? Let everyone’s stereotypes, assumptions, and knowledge of the place fill it up. I feel like we fall back on this especially in spoken story-telling – we might mention someone is from Texas, for instance, to conjure up a whole host of assumptions. And we let that setting, that place, tell a whole story all on its own.

However, with real-world settings, it is often especially good when they are filled in with all sorts of real details, especially when they are real details that you know. For instance, when I was reading P.D. James’ Children of Men, I was amazed to find it set in Oxford, on a street I stayed at when I was there one summer. Suddenly, all the little setting details just had me grinning and happy. Or in Joe Haldeman’s Old Twentieth, in one of many setting-heavy scenes (they are effectively virtual reality tourists for most of the novel), they end up in Ohio eating 5-way Skyline Chili. Such a very specific detail, and one so heavily rooted in a place.

With invented settings, the problem can almost be the opposite: the writer can get lost in telling you about their world, all the cool things they’ve put in it, and forget to tell a story about characters. This is still much of my impression from the Lord of the Rings novels: so much of Tolkien’s writing is descriptive of the terrain and world. This is part of why the films both do and do not feel so much like the books: the setting is brought to life so well in the films, but then the dialog and scenes had to really be fleshed out to make up the time. It couldn’t all be panoramic shots of New Zealand. I don’t think.

What do you think – do you have a favorite setting or description of a setting? Let me know in the comments!

“And we will call it… This Land.”

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