I’m always taken aback when a non-writer is impressed by the act of writing a novel.
In last week’s post, I wrote about my passion for writing and how, in reality, my devotion to it presents as rather obsessive and possibly a little pathetic.
(A/N: Post title is a play on the song Places That Don’t Exist by Conjure One.)
The answers, for the record, is England in the early 1200s, but there’s so much more involved in creating a story setting in any genre than just choosing an era and location on a map. There’s even more to it than just descriptions of what the building and scenery look like.
In his book Characters & Viewpoint, science fiction author Orson Scott Card refers to the setting of a story as the milieu, which he defines as the following:
The milieu is the world surrounding characters – the landscape, the interior spaces, the surrounding cultures[,] … everything from weather to traffic laws. [It] includes all the physical locations that are used … with all the sights, smells, and sounds that come with the territory. The milieu also includes the culture – the customs, laws, social roles and public expectations that limit and illuminate all that a character things and feels and says and does. (pp. 48-49).
Readers love to feel as though they’ve been transported into the world of the story. A large part of that is achieved by creating an authentic setting. One thing a writer can do to better capture both the structure and mood of where his/her story takes place is to visit the site in real life. Reference books and Google Maps, after all, can only take you so far.
I indeed visited that part of England where my novel-in-progress is set, however, my novel-in-progress is historical fiction, which means the locale I toured through last summer is a much different place now than it was eight hundred years ago. The specific era of my story setting is long bygone, and very little in its modern incarnation can be back-cast to the past.
This thus leads me to wonder: when it comes to the task of creating a sense of place out of places that don’t exist anymore, is my job as a historical fiction writer easier or more difficult than that of writers of other genres?