Archive for the ‘#setting’ Tag

Clothes Make the Character   3 comments

How do you decide how to dress your characters?

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Characters are Part of the Setting

Many years ago, a jeweler showed me something interesting. He sprayed a handful of diamonds across a tabletop and asked me what I thought. They weren’t very interesting. Some shimmered a little, but mostly they didn’t seem any more interesting than any other rocks I’d seen recently. Alaska has a lot of cool rocks. Where was the flash, the sparkle, the depth?

He took the smallest, dullest diamond and set it on a square of black velvet, turned out the overhead lights and turned on a lamp right over the table where the square of black velvet rested. There in the middle of it was the uninterested diamond now sparkling as if it was a completely different rock.

What made the difference was the setting? The black velvet and the special light above it.

We authors do a lot of world-building – setting development – spreading the black velvet and adjusting the lighting. The clothes our characters wear are an important part of the setting. Clothes can tell the readers a great deal about the world our characters inhabit or about the characters themselves.

Celtic Fantasy

Daermad Cycle is a high-fantasy set in a medieval world inhabited by the descendants of Celts who were escaping the Romans circa 4th century, as the Roman Empire was collapsing.

How did I choose to dress them? Well, I did some research in the clothes worn by Celts and their descendants. I learned that in regions with heavy Celtic influence, the nobility wear plaids designating their clan particularly as cloaks. I was not making my men wear kilts, but I liked the idea of a lower garment that designed clan, so I gave some thought to how a kilt might become a pair of pants. That became a pair of loose-fitting wool breecs, that are worn by all men in the Celtic society. Nobles wear a plaid that designates their clan and matches their cloaks. Their siarcs (shirts) linen are embroidered in the clan totem. Noblewomen can wear lovely dresses in many colors, often of silk, but their dresses are belted with a kirtle in the clan plaid and the inside of their cloaks are lined with the same plaid.

The ordinary people who work in the noble dun wear wool breecs or aprons in the dominate color of the clan plaid.

Ordinary people who live and work outside of the dun wear wool breecs, dresses and aprons in whatever color they wish.

In the neighboring elven society, the Kin wear a lot of deer skin and the women wear beaded or embroidered dresses. They don’t have a nobility, so people pretty much wear whatever they want to wear, although they tend not to like what the Celts wear because the two don’t get on.

Middle America Apocalypse

I needed to do a lot less research and imagining to dress the people in Emmaus. They live in the United States the day after tomorrow. Masks aside (because the series started pre-CVD19), my people dress pretty much like you’d expect working class Americans to dress — jeans, flannel shirts, maybe some UnderArmour, outerwear. boots. That was easy. I just went on Google Earth and checked out what people were wearing on the streets of Kansas towns. That took five minutes. They dress petty much what Alaskans wear.

Long Island Upscale

My latest series is set in Long Island during normal times. It’s teenagers living on the Gold Coast. I picked a town in the area as my exemplar for Port Mallory. I googled and wandered the streets some. I did some catalog window shopping to understand what kind of clothes teenagers in a wealthy village in Brookhaven New York would wear. I spend more time choosing the clothing of people who think style matters.

Even Simple Stories Need Settings

I occasionally read stories where you have no idea what the characters are wearing and I’ve also read novels where entirely too much attention was spent on describing character ensembles. The extremes bother me. Yes, characters should wear clothing appropriate to the world they live in. If that is never described, I can actually pull up an image of the character naked. On the other hand, after a brief description of what the Aes Sedai or Rand al Thor wore in the Wheel of Time series, I could have happily not returned to the topic and would roll my eyes whenever Robert Jordan would begin some long description AGAIN. I much preferred Brandon Sanderson’s lighter touch.

Still, even simple stories need settings and clothes are one way to define a character. You can learn a great deal about a character’s personality simply by the clothes they choose to wear.

A Place for Your Characters   6 comments

Talk about the setting of your book. Is it entirely imaginary or is it based on a real-life place?

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Settings are almost a character in fiction. Some genres focus more on world-building than others and I write in three genres.

In Daermad Cycle (The Willow Branch and Mirklin Wood) the setting is the world of Daermad and the kingdom of Celdrya and neighboring nations. It’s largely a product of my imagination, based somewhat on reality, particularly the old cities of Europe. It’s a rich varied world with mountain villages and ocean-side cities, vast fields of grain dotted with farmsteads and trackless forests. People make their living fishing, farming, selling herbs, herding horses, serving wine and ale at state affairs, and a million and one other trades. Rivers divide the land into regions, acting as transportation routes as well as borders. My goal is to provide the reader with the feeling of having walked the land and talked to the people. I want readers to feel the mud rolling downhill during a storm, for example — to feel as if they stand off to the side and see the character in that environment.

Transformation Project (Life as We Knew It and the rest of the series) exists in a world that is the United States the day after tomorrow following a series of massive terrorist attacks that thoroughly disrupts life as we know it. There’s a lot less world-building involved simply because we know this world. I picked a town in Kansas and learned a great deal about it, gave it another name and used it as a template for my main setting. I use that real town to answer questions about how the off-ramps on the interstate work, what utilities are available, whether there’s a hospital or grocery store, a Walmart or Costco. Other towns in the series are places we know — Wichita, Hays, Hutchinson. I changed the name of my town because I didn’t want to get into a situation where I place a story in a real-life setting and then realize I can’t do something because the real-life community isn’t set up that way. Back in the 1970s, someone wrote a novel about Fairbanks, Alaska, and then screwed up on some of the details. It wasn’t that great of a story to begin with, but the erroneous details made it painful to read, which I had to for an Alaska Literature class in college. Required reading and it’s wrong. Just shut my head in a car door, please. So I used a real-life town as a template, but moved things around and didn’t use the same road names and called it Emmaus, Kansas — which doesn’t exist. I still want the reader to feel that they could pull off I70 and find this town because it is the world my characters inhabit and the reader is more engaged with the characters if the characters are set like gems within a rich tapestry.

I followed the same process with building the setting in Red Kryptonite Curve. I picked a Long Island town and used it as a template so that I would get the details right, but then I renamed the town and made enough changes that you couldn’t reasonably say it is that town. This allows me to have access to real-life facts — like bus schedules, a description of the harbor, a description of the downtown area, details about the school system — while also moving things around and making stuff up to fit the needs of the story. Peter is a modern American more attune to malls and concert venues, but I want his interactions with his world to seem authentic, to make the readers feel like they’re right there with him.

My view of setting is that most of life is influenced by what goes on around us. I live a certain way in Fairbanks, Alaska, because it’s a frontier town on the edge of a vast wilderness with a certain degree of isolation, long, dark, cold winters, and brief, intense summers when the sun doesn’t go down. People living in other towns at other latitudes live different lives because their setting is different. With a few details, you can build a world that puts characters into an environment rather than just floating in space. This makes for a much richer and more engaging story that shows characters acting like real people in real world settings. And if I get stuck describing something, I can probably find a photo out on the Internet that will provide me with the visual I need to massage my imagination.

The setting of a scene can give added depth to the character’s actions. For example, in Red Kryptonite Curve, Peter often describes the Wyngates’ backyard has having rose bushes that he hates. They are pretty to look at, but they have no fragrance and there are thrones. They’re a metaphor for his mother who planted them and adored them, and then ran off to Florida with her lover. Peter would take a machete to them if he could. Without really going into the relationship with his mother, you can surmise who she is and what she is like through the inclusion of her roses in the setting. And, thus, the setting becomes not just the world the characters inhabit, but a character in and of itself.

Let’s go see what my fellow blog-hoppers think on the topic.

Posted April 20, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Setting Makes the Gem   Leave a comment

My friend Jane Bwye asked me for a guest post recently and here it is. The topic was novel setting.

Setting Makes the Gem

Today, Lela Markham shares a valuable message about settings for a book. A very warm welcome to my long-standing friend from Authonomy days; we are privileged to have you with us, Lela – over to you.

*** 

Some years ago, I had the opportunity to interview a jeweller. As part of the interview, he showed me some of the gems he was working on. I was unimpressed. Sitting there on his work table, they were dull and uninspiring. He was apparently used to that reaction because he then showed me what makes gems sparkle. He put uninspiring jewel upon jewel on a black velvet cloth and suddenly, they sparkled.

“Setting is everything,” he explained.

I am a character-driven writer. They appear to me when I least expect them and they want to tell me their stories, which is what makes the plot. Given that beginning, I focus my writing on relationships and how characters interact and react to one another. Setting is an afterthought … and yet, it is everything.

LMarkhamIt’s the writing equivalent of the black velvet cloth or the jeweller’s setting. It is what makes characters sparkle.

None of us live in a void space. We’re all surrounded by the world we live in. I live in Alaska, where the grandeur of the setting definitely can overwhelm the character, but it also shapes the character. People here cannot help interacting with the environment and even large personalities learn you must adapt to it.

When writing, I try always to remember that my characters can’t live in a void space any more than I can. They need a backdrop to sparkle against. Far more than simply a geographic location or an era that makes a nice backdrop for the characters to work out the plot in front of, setting creates a mood and atmosphere that directs the plot and challenges the characters.

For a gem, it’s all about how the jeweller cuts the stone. Similarly, it’s the little details that provide the sparkle by teasing the senses. What would a newcomer or even a resident see, hear, taste, smell or feel if they arrived in your story’s world that moment? Ever notice what people smell like when they haven’t seen a shower for a few days? The sky is blue, except when it isn’t and then it may be all sorts of colours during sunset, sunrise, as a storm is gathering or a tornado is about to hit. What does wind sound like as it sighs through palm trees? Different from how it sounds when it sighs through pines. If there’s an ocean to the east and a desert to the west, the wind from each will feel different on your skin. Small details are pennies that pay big dividends.

While the grand backdrop grounds the characters in reality and provides the reader with something to hang their imagination on, small details evoke the senses and bring the reader into the story.  Whether you start out with a setting that fulfils these requirements or add them later as I do, they are essential to good storytelling and make all the difference in how your story engages the reader.

Author pic ditch close-upLela Markham is the pen name of an Alaskan novelist who was raised in a home built of books. Alaska is a grand adventure like none other with a culture that embraces summer adventure and winter artistic pursuits.

A multi-genre writer, Lela has published tales of fantasy, alternate history, apocalyptic and political satire, but she’s also got works in progress for literary fiction, new adult, YA, mystery and, her nemesis, romance.

Lela shares her life with her adventuresome husband, two fearless offspring and an extremely-happy yellow Lab.

 

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