Too many writers don’t realize that the setting of your world plays a HUGE role in the success of your story. Even if your setting is present day, present time, it is still a major player and needs to be developed.
Here’s the thing that many of us, even those who understand the importance of setting, don’t get. The first time I heard this, it blew my mind.
Focusing on every aspect of your world is the worst thing you can do to make it real.
Crazy, huh? You’d think that since the real world is so complex and full, you’d want your setting to mimic that. The problem here is that our world is too complex and too full, so when we try to replicate that we hopelessly fail. Writers who try end up touching briefly on a million different aspects of their setting, never fully developing or delving into anything. They get a setting that feels like the shell of a real one.
When you’re developing your setting, choose two or three parts of it and make them AWESOME. The food, the magic, the plants, the language – something needs to stand out with real depth and creativity. If you try to make every part of your world unique and intricate, you will fail. I promise.
I usually pick one or two aspects of my physical world and one or two of my cultural world. Here’s a list of a few things to get you thinking about what you can focus in on:
Physical World: Think about things like your magic system (if you’ve got one), the landscape and geography of your world, plants and animals, weather, astronomy. The list is pretty much endless.
Let’s go back to Harry Potter here, since J.K. Rowling nailed her setting. Her magic system is an obvious one. How many of us who’ve read the books or seen the movies haven’t memorized spells like “alohamora” or “expelliarmus”? Think about the physical landscape of Hogwarts, too. She made the hallways move, the portraits talk, the whomping willow whomp. There are many examples of how she chose a few things and developed them really well, made them really unique.
Cultural World: Here think about the technology, religion, races, customs, history, language, castes, government, gender roles, food, dress, occupations. Again, the list goes on and on.
The food is definitely something that Rowling chose to make shine. You’ve got chocolate frogs, butterbeer, every flavor beans, licorice wands, and all the food that appears in the Great Hall. She appealed to our senses, really delved deep, and made this aspect of her setting stand out.
Don’t Overload. Look over the list above and choose one or two things for your physical world and one or two for your cultural world. Make them players in your story. Push the boundaries here. If your setting is in our world, choose things you want to highlight rather than make up.
Setting is a crucial and often overlooked part of your writing. What are techniques you’ve found to develop and incorporate it?