Writing

Process: Using Setting to Generate Story

People have different ways of coming up with stories. Some people have an idea for the plot first, and they fill in with characters and setting later. Some people have characters first, and just need to come up with a story for these characters.

And then there are people like me, who have a setting in mind first, and everything else comes later. Although, I haven’t really heard much of anything from this camp…surely I’m not alone?

When the first kernels of a story idea are coming to me, usually the first thing that comes to mind is the setting. For example, for SHARDS, it was the whole Victorian Era meets Wars of the Roses thing. For FIRE, it was a dystopian city-state with witch trials. Another idea I have percolating right now involves ethnic conflict and potential genocide. Basically…settings with room for lots of conflict.

After I have that in place, I start filling in, usually with characters. What sort of characters would I be likely to find in that sort of setting? For SHARDS, knowing that my Victorian-inspired setting isn’t likely to allow women much freedom, I can fill in the picture with Calanthe, a teenage girl who’s being married off against her will, and who feels trapped because of her perceived lack of choices. From the Wars of the Roses element of it, I thought about what if her family belonged to one of the houses fighting for power? How might that impact her?

Knowing my setting helped me generate a lot of questions about my characters, which I then used to help me generate my plot. (For more on how this works [for me], see this post.*) What does this character want? What choices does this character have to make? What conflict(s) do(es) this character face? Once I’ve got all that in place, I’m ready to write.

What comes to you first when you’re getting ready to write a new idea? Any other setting-first people out there?

*Ignore that post when it says I always have characters first. Obviously, it’s full of lies. However, the rest of the post still stands.

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