Why choosing your setting is important
A setting for a new story is one of the earliest attributes I assign. I need the setting on order to develop the rest of the story design elements. More about the story design elements later. There are two separate types of setting in a story. One is the overall setting such as a Medieval kingdom or Victorian London or an alien planet. The second type of setting is a subset of the overall setting and this second tip is used in scenes. Thus, scenes set in Victorian London could include a private men’s club, a private home, the docks on the Thames, and the London Bridge. All of these are readily identified as part of the London overall setting. It is an essential requirement of the story that the scene settings be consistent with the overall setting. For instance, if the scene on London Bridge includes modern automobiles, the reader will have a difficult time suspending belief.
In other words, choosing a setting limits what the writer can do and it also limits the characters. Likewise, a character in the Medieval kingdom setting can’t use Kung Fu to disarm an opponent. Using Victorian London as the story setting will require research in order to write convincingly about it. However, since no one is alive who lived during that era, the author has a bit of leeway in describing the setting. That’s not true if the writer uses a modern setting. If the writer gets the details wrong, some readers will call him on the mistakes.
I live outside New York City and I love to visit Central Park. I’ve used the Park as a scene setting in a few stories. In one story, the climax took place in the Park at a spot that includes Cleopatria’s Needle, an Egyptian obelisk. The story called for characters to be dropped off on the east side of the Park (5th Avenue) and go through the Park to get to the obelisk. To ensure accuracy, I went to the Park and walked the route my characters would take. I also took pictures to ensure I wrote the details correctly.
If you haven’t been to Central Park, don’t try to use it in a scene, it’s unique. In similar fashion, don’t write about San Francisco’s Chinatown unless you’ve been there and are familiar with the area.
I’ve written a number of scenes in a fantasy city called Dun Hythe. I picture the seaport as resembling Quebec City. This city has two parts called the Lower and Upper towns. The Lower Town is along the St. Laurence River and extends back a few hundred yards. The Upper Town is atop a rock palisade a hundred feet or more high. My Dun Hythe is constructed similarly and I have photos to took while in Quebec so I get the details correct.
Do you enjoy untypical coming-of-age stories? Well, you won’t find one more untypical than Moxie’s Problem. Moxie is an obnoxious, teen-age princess who has never been outside her father’s castle. Until now. The real world is quite different and she struggles to come to grips with reality. The story takes place against a backdrop of Camelot. But it isn’t the Camelot of legends. It’s Camelot in a parallel universe. So, all bets are off!