To Write I wrote a Novel
The world you’ll have to live in
Setting is very important in any type of fiction writing. It is the world in which your story comes to be, the world you want your readers to accept, from which they never remove themselves by questioning any event that happens within it. How can you create a world that your readers will believe in?
The effort you put into setting can be genre dependent. In a general fiction piece, based somewhere you are already familiar with, you won’t need to do much work, but for a fantasy or a dystopian story it may take many months of research and use all of your imagination.
Your chosen setting should appeal to you. You are going to exist here along with your characters for the duration of the story, which may take a year or longer.
Setting might also impact the scale of your story. Could you write a full-length novel (average: 80,000 words) based solely in your house? Maybe, maybe not, but the scale of your story should be in your mind when considering setting.
In my experience, the setting details come out as I create the story and associated characters. The following paragraphs describe how the setting of my novel came about.
In September of 2011, I was in a town called Jericoacoara, on the north coast of Brazil which, despite its remote location, a 6-hour drive from Fortaleza, is a popular tourist destination. There were no pavements or roads there at the time, only sand. To get around you either walked or took a beach buggy. A massive dune towered over the town, and late in the afternoon I would join the other tourists in scaling it to watch the sunset.
Buildings were rarely higher than the tree line, and there were no franchise businesses – no Starbucks cafes nor Ralph Lauren clothes stores. The town was filled with restaurants serving local food and bars selling cheap booze.
There were beaches to the east and west and a bay where colourful fishing boats called Jangadas rested on the sand at the high tide mark. The town was in a world of nature, far away from the noise and confusion of any crowded, chaotic city.
I went on a tour of the area and was shown around the lagoons, mangroves, and sand dunes. The place had me thinking of Saint Exupéry’s Wind, Sand and Stars; I saw seahorses in an estuary, windswept trees clinging to the beach with exposed claw-like roots, and was driven over the town of Tatajuba, which rested underfoot, having been buried by the ever-shifting sand.
This place had everything I wanted for making an original novel, so I started to gather information:
- I took photos of everything – streets, building facades, menus, people, surrounding landscape.
- I learned the names of things specific to that region, for example the small, shallow hulled fishing boats with curved masts, called Jangadas, and common slang words.
- I learned about the local culture, history, economy and activities.
When I got home, I got hold of some books on Brazilian culture: Capoeira, Candomble – an Afro-Brazilian religion, the slave trade, politics, demography.
I learned about the types of flora and fauna to be found in the region: bird names, types of insects, mangroves and associated tree species.
I didn’t do all of this in a linear order. A key aspect I found in writing is that there is no fixed boundary, everything flows together backward and forward until the story becomes whole. Don’t anchor yourself with the weight of unnecessary information. Gain a base-knowledge then learn as you write.