Category Archives: The Fictorians

When Your Setting is a Wild Card

Normally when you establish a setting in a story you only have to do it once. Unless some cataclysmic event happens, it’s not going to change enough to require another description. Huzzah! But what if your setting isn’t a clearly defined place? What if it’s more…well, this.

 

Okay, so your setting might not be the Dark Dimension but it may be like The Demos Oneiroi I created for The Moonflower in that it’s less of a landscape and more of an abstract concept given physical form. The Demos Oneiroi is the dream world of the Ancient Greek gods and since it’s quite literally the stuff of dreams it can be anything and everything all at once. A place like this, one that can change on a whim, can be hard to explain. Describing it with enough detail to get the point across without overwhelming the reader is a very tricky thing to do. It’s like doing a paint by number except all the numbers are imaginary.

The way I handled it is to treat the setting like an unreliable narrator. I established early on that the setting can and does change on a whim and that it’s perfectly normal for the abnormal to happen. If a lush forested park suddenly turns into zombie Jimmy Hoffa’s waterpark from hell, it’s all good. The reader doesn’t have to panic or re-read the previous page to figure out if they missed something. They can roll with it and get in the line for the giant octopus tentacle slide.

I hope I didn’t lose anyone there. I realize saying “do this tricky thing by treating it like another tricky thing” is not the best explanation; especially if you don’t know how to create an unreliable narrator. Don’t worry. I’m not going to leave you perplexed. It’s not quite as scary as it sounds and I promise, you don’t need to make a bargain with an otherworldly being to do this.

Dormammu, I’ve come to establish setting.

Since I keep throwing Doctor Strange references into this let’s use that film as a starting point. (Spoiler alert.)

In this acid trip on film we see multiple worlds, not all of which obey the same laws of physics that ours does. Besides blowing Stephen’s mind, it’s also establishing in the minds of the audience that there are many strange place the story can take us. So when Stephen does go to the Dark Dimension at the end of the film, we’re not shocked by it — especially since we’ve already seen weirder locations.

How do you create that on the page? In order to write an abstract setting you have to approach it in pretty much the same way that they did in the film. Start out by describing the setting as it is in that moment to create a base line. Then either through dialogue or a bit of exposition establish that things in this place aren’t necessarily what they appear to be, and that they won’t stay as they are now for long. It’s important to let the reader know that it’s gonna get a bit weird so they aren’t taken by surprise. A shock like that will knock them out of the story before you get to the really good stuff. After you’ve prepped them for the coming shift that’s when you can make the unexpected appear. How you do that, you may ask? Well that’s up to you. My favorite way is to have an inexperienced character encounter a shift in the landscape while accompanied by a more experienced character. The experienced character displays their knowledge and saves/helps the less experienced through until they’re back at a safe spot. This way I get to let my landscape live up to its potential while advancing the less experienced character’s development. Later in the story I can have them on their own, facing the same dangers — or worse — in that same landscape and it’s more plausible that they’ll survive.

It’s okay if it takes a few revisions to really get it to work well. It is a tricky thing but the freedom it gives you to create and be original makes it a lot of fun. Plus, a setting like this never gets boring. Bonus!

On Setting

A guest post by Ramón Terrell

The resident dictionary in my computer defines setting as “the place in time in which a play, novel, or film is represented as happening. As is its job, the ole dictionary gives you a sterile definition of something much more … alive.

A novel’s setting is its history, its present, and its future. It is the body inside which the story lives. Without it, you just have characters in a vacuum. I’m reminded of the time I took a mocap (short for motion capture) class. After I slinked into the skintight black mocap suit, and they fitted me with all the little white dots, I moved into the center of the circular space to go through the motions.

There was a giant screen on the far wall that displayed my movements in the form of all the dots on my body. For the purposes of this post, I’ll gloss over my elation at imitating Ken and Ryu movments from Street Fighter, or Scorpion and Sub Zero from Mortal Kombat. Or even Eddie Gordo from Tekken. While those moments were a fun and laughter-inducing reliving of childhood/young adulthood, the memory of this adds a layer to this subject. The character in a vacuum.

While I was busy playing characters onscreen, the guys on the computer were creating a troll to inhabit the white dots that I provided. Soon we had a big hulking troll monster on screen, and I was its brain. Now, while seeing the guys behind the computer screen work their magic so quickly was cool, and me making the thing move even cooler, it sat on a screen, by itself, in a vacuum. The truth is, they could have gone on to inhabit that screen with thirty more trolls, included a giant, or even a dragon. But at the end of the day, they would all have been really cool figures in a vacuum devoid of any life but themselves.

Setting, is not just the location a story takes place. It’s not just a mass of buildings, mountains, lakes, flowers and trees. It’s a character in the story, whether background or lead. In The Lord of the Rings, Middle Earth was very much a main character of that series. The sense of vastness and wonder of the place, the mines of Moria, the forests home to powerful sprites such as Tom Bombadil, the lush green homes of the Ents, on their endless search for the Ent Wives, who probably left because they were tired of picking up after their Ent husbands. The darkness and evil of Kazaad Dum. It goes on and on.

The setting is everything that a character loves or hates about their lives, their situation, their past, the anxiety of their future. It is that place of danger and deviousness that the protagonist has been told to avoid, yet dreads the inevitability of her having to go. Throughout her journey to this horrible land, the protagonist is filled with worry about what she will find there. She mentally and even physically prepares herself for the sly, conniving men, the whip-like wit of the women, and the defiant children she will encounter. She hones her senses, wary of the packs of feral dogs roving the city borders, the twisted and gnarled trees reaching their clawed branches over the trail to snatch up foolish travelers passing through the dark night. She thinks of the black buildings, sitting prostrate before the giant black tower glaring down on them.

But when our protagonist reaches what her friends have described as this place of unending darkness and despair, she discovers a city with buildings dark of color that appear black at night, but are quite beautifully designed homes, pavilions, tailor shops, bakeries. The old gnarled trees are actually thousands of years old, and she can feel the silent wisdom of many ages past wafting from the regal figures. Packs of dogs do indeed rove the city limits, chasing off bears, making wolves think twice about venturing too close to the meadow where families like to picnic. The families bring extra food that they happily share with their canine protectors.

The men of the city are excellent at a game called Spy’s Eye, in which their team uses treachery and deceit to win over their opponents. It is such a beloved game that they playfully prank each other in daily life. Women have a whip-like wit that is seemingly present at birth, since the society is matriarchal, and women hold the most powerful positions of politics.

Children are trained from a young age to be strong of mind, for the world is dangerous outside the borders of their home, and one never knows what or whom they will encounter during their travels.

Our protagonist is instantly overwhelmed at the sight of the dark-colored buildings downhill from the huge tower that provides a breathtaking view of the surrounding land. It is a tower of observation that all may enjoy. Climbing the steps of the tower is a tiresome affair that not many will complete, yet those who do reach the top are afforded the perspective of a view of a world much bigger than they are; a reward for the labor of achieving it.

In these two examples, we have a setting built in the imagination of our protagonist based on rumors from her childhood. Her friends may have ventured to this place when very young, been frightened by the trees, the large buildings, the people who might have been very different from those from the land of their birth. This setting is stays with us and the protagonist all the way to her destination. Then we see that this is actually only partially true, and that with her own eyes, the protagonist sees the buildings, the trees, the dogs, the people, for what they really are.

Our setting has changed.

In any given story, we will more often than not have multiple settings. Even if it takes place in only one city throughout the entire story, there will be more than one. Our characters will venture from the slums of their home, to high society once they’ve attained a job. They may perhaps earn enough money to move from the slums to middle society where they will own a home in a nice community.

One day a dragon may fly overhead and torch the entire city. Now we have another setting; one of fire, ruin, and death. To stop the dragon, our protagonist may seek the help of a wizard who gives him the ability to breathe underwater, and he ventures deep into the caverns of the ocean to seek help from a water dragon to battle the evil wyrm who destroyed his home. In his journey to the water dragon, we see all manner of sea life.

Why have I illustrated all of this? That’s the fun part. We go to a film, open a book, go to a play, to suspend real life for a while. We wish to be transported into a setting not our own, whether real or fictional. Some readers love political thrillers, while others enjoy flying on the back of a dragon. With either of those genres, a character must be somewhere. Be it in a courtroom, in front of the desk of the Prime Minister of a country he was just caught spying in, or in the lair of a dragon who would love to know why he shoved that one coin into his pocket. A character’s journey cannot happen without a place to journey within. Even in their own mind, there is some kind of setting.

So go forth, lovely readers. Find a setting and dive into it. Pick up a game controller and do things in ancient Egypt, Rome, Japan. Open a book and leap through the treetops over the shoulder of a band of wood nymphs. Settings are as endless as our imaginations, and our abilities to use the built-in virtual reality of our own minds to visualize them. And isn’t that, a truly wondrous and wonderful thing?

 

 

About the Author:r_terrell_030513_0129_web

Ramón Terrell is an actor and author who instantly fell in love with fantasy the day he opened R. A. Salvatore’s: The Crystal Shard. Years (and many devoured books) later he decided to put pen to paper for his first novel. After a bout with aching carpals, he decided to try the keyboard instead, and the words began to flow.

As an actor, he has appeared in the hit television shows Supernatural, izombie, Arrow, and Minority Report, as well as the hit comedy web series Single and Dating in Vancouver. He also appears as one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men in Once Upon a Time, as well as an Ark Guard on the hit TV show The 100. When not writing, or acting on set, he enjoys reading, video games, hiking, and long walks with his wife around Stanley Park in Vancouver BC.

Connect with him at:

http://rjterrell.com/

R J Terrell on facebook

RJTerrell on twitter

 

Wouldn’t it be cool if…?

One of the funnest elements of a story can be setting. One of the most dangerous questions we can ask ourselves starts with, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?”

Here’s my story:

In putting together my Mankind’s Redemption series, I placed my characters in far away star systems and then had

to ask myself, “How did they get there?” Time travel? For colonization, not likely. Generation ships? Most likely. Easy-peasy, right? But then, for every cool element I added to their world, to the aliens’ worlds, to every scenario, I had to ask myself the traditional reporter questions of what, when, why, how, and where. It got complicated, fast. The Mwalgi species dwell on a hot, toxic planet that lacks water and what they have is largely contaminated. Cool, right? Even more amazing, it orbits a red dwarf sun with a sister-dwarf-sun in a binary orbit. So their suns orbit

around a central point, swinging each other around. Cool, but complicated, and it added a lot more research. I learned a lesson. Sometimes these amazing, interesting settings are worth it, and sometimes you might want to consider what you’re getting yourself into. Knowing what I know now, would I do it again? Probably. It is cool, but I might have toned everything down just a little bit so I could spend more time writing and a little less time on plausibility and research. Just an FYI, this series is a Galactic Fantasy so I have some wiggle room in the possible but highly unlikely sector. For hard sci-fi, you have to really know your science and accuracy is key.

When I started my next series, Legends of Power, I set it in Kentucky. I went there, took pictures, did research, and restricted most of my “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” questions to the magic system. I spent almost as much time researching reality as I had in researching scientific possibility. Hmm, not what I expected. Was it worth it? Absolutely, and if you ever get to Bowling Green, KY, I highly recommend Chaney’s Dairy Barn. Best ice cream I’ve ever had! (And some really cute cows.)

In The Number Prophecy, I set the books in a world with similarities to our own but significant differences in history, geology, religion, and sociology. So much fun! I get to explore so many aspects of humanity. Did I research any less? A little less on the physical setting, but so much more on all of the other aspects of my world and it’s people.

The moral of my story? No matter what you do there must be research. Everything is cool, from the craziest settings in your imagination–I’m thinking of a world where metal flyswatters hit you in the face every time you have an idea–to the most mundane, adorable, town in the midwest. Embrace it, enjoy it, and let the setting live as much as your characters. Give it equal, or possibly, even more attention that your protagonist. An interesting setting is the backdrop of interesting characters, interesting plots, and interesting conflicts. Put in the time to make it breathe and never be afraid to ask “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” Just make sure you’re prepared with a good answer.

Colette Black Bio:
Author PicColette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. Author of the Mankind’s Redemption Series, The Number Prophecy series, and the new Legends of Power series, Colette writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance. Find her at www.coletteblack.net

 

 

I am vengeance! I am the night! I am a fluid and moldable setting that changes to match my protagonist!

For my second post this month I’d like to take a look at one of my favorite settings in all of media, Batman’s hometown of Gotham City. The angle I’d like to focus on is how writers and directors have used Gotham over the years, changing it like clay and sculpting so that the city is a reflection of the hero who protects it.

As Gotham changes, so does Batman. It’s more that just a fun exercise- -I think there is a lot here that we as writers can learn about using our settings to better frame our characters.

CONSISTENCIES OF THE SETTING

Let’s first take a look at four elements that stay consistent about Gotham in most interpretations:

The first two are somewhat trivial – Gotham is almost always shown as a coastal city in someway, and it is always located northern enough to get snow. The first one I suppose is to allow good waterfront scenes (and sell Batboat toys), while the latter allows you to have fun winter holiday issues.

The other two are more significant, and I think both tie to unchangeable elements of the Batman character.

  1. Gotham City is always represented as a very large city, both in population and geography.
  2. Gotham City is ridden with crime

I find these two very interesting, as I think they are interconnected to create a setting where Batman is a necessary element. Gotham is consistently depicted as a New York level city, in terms of population. This is as opposed to say Portland, Maine. We’re not talking about a hundred thousand people, Batman protects a city of millions of people. In a smaller city or a less crime filled one, Batman might have a chance at actually winning his battle. But Gotham City is too big and too filled with crime and corruption. One man could never win his war against crime here, which makes Batman’s quest to do so all the more compelling and tragic.

He fights a war he knows he can never win, and will someday lose.

So with those consistent elements in check, let’s look at how various media has played with the other components of Gotham City, and how those changes in the setting are there to reflect the version of Batman that protects it.

BATMAN – TELEVISION (1966)

The narration for this television show lets you know from the very beginning. Gotham is a “fair city”. Wayne Manor is “stately”. Of all the takes on Gotham, this is by far the nicest. It’s even daylight outside for most of the shots! With its blue skies and clean streets, this Gotham reflects its Batman perfectly. There is no brooding Dark Knight here. This Bruce Wayne is a fairly happy person; being Batman is a mission to him, but not a curse or burden as it is in most other takes.

It is also worth noting that this is the most generic looking of the Gotham versions I will cover. Other than Wayne Manor and Police Headquarters there are no iconic exterior locations, which gives the city a ‘everytown’ feeling. 

BATMAN – FILM (1989)

One of the primary challenges that faced the Batman movie in the 80s was washing away the image the public had of Batman a light and silly character, an image largely built by the television show I just mentioned. Director Tim Burton and his team gave us an extremely dark and fantastical city, which again reflected the much grimmer hero that protected it. While the television show depicted a Gotham that could be any city, Burton’s Gotham City could exist nowhere but in this film. It is seemingly always night there, everything is poorly lit and the architecture is gothic and grim. The setting of the movie is working hard to sell the change in the character before you even see him.

I find this to be the most hopeless and lost feeling of the Gotham Cities I’m reviewing, and its pairing with Keaton’s Batman is ideal.

BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (1992)

Batman: TAS shares a lot of production aesthetic with Burton’s film. It is a very grim place where it is again nearly always nighttime. One thing about this setting that is different though is the strong art deco design elements that are married to modern technology. Airships fly overhead while people get out of vintage cars only to type on modern computers. It renders the setting with a feeling of being lost in time, which again is a spot on representation of this series’ version of Batman. Bruce Timm and the production team of this series cherry-picked components of the Dark Knight’s history to show a Batman that was not from one era, but from all of them. The setting here helps to sell that message.

BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

One of the initial conceits of Batman Begins was that this was a ‘real’ movie, in that this was supposed to represent a take on Batman as he might exist in a real world, as opposed to a comic book one. To help sell this, director Christopher Nolan and his team bring us a Gotham City that looks like a real city, really for the first time. There are a few fantastical elements, such as the Narrows and a city-wide monorail system, but those are the aberrations. You see real cars driving by real buildings- -cars that look nothing like the ones in the Animated Series and buildings that would never be mistaken for the dark gothic churches of Burton’s film.

The message here is that this Batman is real and not a comic book character, the movie altering the setting to help sell that to the viewer.

SUMMARY

Obviously there’s a lot more I could mine here and I made more than a few generalization, but my basic point stands. Your setting can just be a place your characters walk around in, or it can tell the reader something about your characters. A good setting will subtly reinforce the message you are already trying to send your reader, teaching them something about your protagonists even as they move around inside it.

See you next time… or should I say: same Fictorians-time, same Fictorians-channel?

Perhaps not.