The Elements of a Great Story — Setting

This month we’re taking a ‘for the writers’ spin on our theme and talking about what makes a story great. I’ve been tasked with world building, which is something I love!

Worldbuilding is the term we use to describe the creation of an imaginary setting.

Creating worlds that feel as though you’ve stepped right inside them is a tricky talent that will turn a good story into a great story. Let’s think about some books that fit into the ‘great’ category and examine their settings in terms of beleviability;

  • Harry Potter. I know, I know, I use JK Rowling as an example all the time, but honestly she’s one of the best storytellers out there. The magic world in which her characters live is so well rounded that many, many muggles have tried to run through the column on London station marked 9 3/4. Heck, I’m still waiting for my Hogwarts letter!
  • The Lunar Chronicles. This futuristic world of magic and science is so realistic I wonder if it’s actually a glimpse into the future. If Prince Kai will someday reign over the Eastern Commonwealth, if we’ll colonize the moon, if cyborgs … who am I kidding? We’re only a sneeze away from real, live, breathing cyborgs right now!
  • The Mortal Instruments. A world hidden within our own that holds magic, paranormal creatures, and other beings who keep us safe. Like the other two worlds mentioned, I wonder if I just drew the right rune on my arm … would everything pop into focus? Is the old church in my neighbourhood really an institute? If I dive down to the very bottom of a clear mountain pool will I find a gateway into the seelie court?

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All three of these series contain amazing worldbuilding. Let’s take a look at what they have in common.

  • They’re immensely detailed.
  • Those details are woven through every aspect of every character and every aspect of every scene. Think Luna’s fear of nargals. Think ‘moving’ photographs in newspapers. Think feasts that appear out of thin air. Think moving staircases and plants that screech when uprooted. Think language choices unique to the world. Think wumping willows and rooms of requirement. Think extracted memories and listening devices shaped like ears. Think Harry Potter. All of these things, no matter how large or small, add up to create one amazingly unique, almost realistic world.
  • The places in these books feel so real they become like another character in the story. Hogwarts. The Rampion. Alicante. All settings, but if I asked you to describe characteristics or even a personality-type feel to these settings I bet you could.
  • In great stories the reader doesn’t feel like they’re trudging through paragraphs of description to find the plot. The setting (world) is slotted into the story so seamlessly the reader doesn’t notice it’s there.

SUBTLETY IS KEY!

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Setting is an essential part of any great story. Together with great characters, solid (and invisible) world building is what makes readers keep coming back to a series. It’s what makes us wish fictional worlds were real (or hope they’re not :P).

I’ve shared a few of my favourite bookish worlds. Which ones do you love?

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Stacey Nash writes Aussie YA / NA. Her Oxley College Saga is a series of romances based in the fictional Oxley College on a university campus. Her Collective Series is YA trilogy about a girl who discovers secret sci-fi technology and the organisation who suppress it. To find out more about Stacey’s books or to connect with her on social media (where she tries to be engaging), check out these places: www.stacey-nash.com, instagram, twitter, facebook.

Using Travel In Your Writing

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Right now, I am in England. This picture is of me…well, my wellies, anyway, on a day below zero degrees. I’m here for a month to visit my family, to do some sightseeing, stuff like that. But it has also been really invaluable for my writing.

At the moment I’m working on a YA contemporary called The Daisy List.

It’s set in – you guessed it – England. While I do make up a fair portion of it, being here helps me get a feel for the weather, the culture, the shops and the food and the environment. Going to London meant that I could pinpoint exactly where Daisy might go.

Like here, for example.

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I took this photo on the side of the Thames opposite the Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. It’s also right next to the London Eye. There’s a scene in my novel where Daisy and her friend sit and toss chips to seagulls, just talking. Being able to sit there myself was absolutely amazing. And since I’ve revised that scene now, I think it lends a sort of authenticity to it.

So I take photos of lots of things. Some might never be used.

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(although it WAS extremely delicious)

When I get back to Australia I can look at all these photos and use them for whatever I like. I keep a travel journal as well, detailing differences between Aus and England (there are many) and the places I’ve been. Detail is always better than being vague – readers can tell when a setting hasn’t been fleshed out. World-building is just as important in contemporary as in fantasy.

But travel can also help with other genres apart from contemporary.

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The castle in the distance here could be where a king lives. It could be the portal to another world. It could be anything.

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This frozen spiderweb could be the clue that the Snow Queen has returned. And yes that WAS an excuse to use this picture! You don’t often see frozen spiderwebs in Australia.

Of course, travel isn’t completely necessary to flesh out settings.

Not everyone gets these opportunities, and imagination is always going to be a writer’s best tool. But if you are travelling – don’t waste it. Even if you don’t have a novel set in that particular place, who knows? You might use it one day. Take photos. Take notes. Use everything.

Because already I think The Daisy List is a better book.

 

 

 

So Emily’s doing lots of things. By the time this blog post goes up she will have done the Harry Potter tour in London. Yay! Then she’s jetting off to Paris on the 16th, in the hopes of eating lots of croissants and taking billions of photos.

Because you never know when you’re going to set a novel in France, do you?

She’s also close to the launch of her new blog, loonyliterate.com, which is very exciting. She hopes everyone is having a good start to 2015.