Setting is more than just the window dressing for your story. Calling it the environment in which your characters live is even too simple. Setting is an ecosystem. It is it’s own living, breathing character within your story and if you’re not treating it that way, you could be missing out on the incredible depth it could add to your world. We need to build our world.
With any ecosystem, everything within it is part of a greater cycle that helps feed the environment. This includes the places and the people as well as the organisms and the clouds – even the planet and the space surrounding. This is incredibly exciting for me as a writer. I find that exploring the people and places in a book to be just the tip of the iceberg. The real meat of the story comes from the history and, bigger still, the rule set.
Yes the rule set! Just like your old Dungeons & Dragons games as a kid, there are rules that stories follow. These are like the physics of the universe or the rules of a game. As an author, it’s important to play by the rules because the of the relationship with your reader. What’s amazing about being an author is that you get to create the rules and your audience agrees to play by them for the short time that they’re immersed in your book. Don’t neglect that responsibility!
Your setting, your rule set, is what allows the reader to suspend their disbelief. It doesn’t matter if your setting is the modern streets of Detroit, the sprawling dairies of Hilmar, an iron bubble of oxygen floating through space or, on the distant planet of Ysillia.
That’s where Cloaked in Darkness takes place, Ysillia. What made me so excited to write this story was entirely the setting. It’s a world where the people can draw on the power of the divine through natural gates within their bodies – the idea came to me from Tibetan Buddhism. I wanted my characters to be powerful having limited access to their chakras (though I call them gates in the book) while the more gates they had access to, the more powerful they would be considered. I liked this idea because, as Buddhists strive to achieve balance they become blissful in Nirvana. My characters would be powerful being imbalanced while eventually the reader might encounter someone who does not seem powerful but has achieved balanced and that balance being a power greater than the rest of the characters could have ever imagined.
Writers of the Dawn Podcast: Setting
On Writers of the Dawn we talked at length about setting with many different examples you may enjoy what we have to say.
Part of setting is the history. How did civilization get to where it is today? Where they ups and downs? Was there a turning point that brought humanity together and looked towards the stars? Or are the people milling about in the iron age because magic has made further technological advancement unnecessary?
Once you’ve asked yourself these questions, how do you think that will affect your characters? Is there a creation myth? Or is your civilization ruled by scientific objectivists? Depending on your answer there will be differences in the scope of technology.
If you’re writing fantasy and world building from the ground up, it’s an exciting time. These questions are what is going to make up your world. If you don’t know the answers yet don’t worry some discovery writing in the preliminary stages goes a long way to flesh out the ideas. The more you write the more complex the setting will become – that’s why we get to do second and third drafts of the same manuscript.