I began the countdown to NaNoWriMo 2017 with last week’s post on outlining, which generated some good discussions amongst our commenters from both ends of the outlining continuum.
“More and more over the last few days I’m starting to think of outlining (at least the way I usually do it) as a first draft. It’s just lacking details.”
That makes sense to me. Whether your first pass through a new story is via an outline or via a purely “pantser” style process you’re just trying to tell yourself the story. However you start out you will (hopefully) wind up with a draft that you can then flesh out into a full-blown story.
The outline for my upcoming story currently looks a bit like a movie script. For each potential scene there are notes about location and timing, the characters who are involved, who “owns” the scene, and what the outcome of the scene will be. In some cases where I felt especially inspired, I even managed to capture a few lines of dialog or action that I thought of while sketching things out.
One thing that slowed me down a bit during the outlining process was not having the setting(s) for the story nailed down. I know where it starts and ends and have some ideas about the middle, but I definitely need to do some more work in that area.
Conveniently, this week my focus is on: Setting
That seems pretty easy, right? Well, it would be if setting only referred to the physical location of the story, but it’s a bit more than that. According to the definition in Wikepedia:
“In works of narrative the element setting includes the historical moment in time and geographic location in which a story takes place, and helps initiate the main backdrop and mood for a story.”
A little googling turned up a number of helpful sites with additional things to consider when defining the setting of a story including the duration, weather, and other details.
Where physically is the story located? Big city? Farm? On a cruise ship in the Mediterranean? Once you decide on the place, then you need to consider the details about that place that you want to include in your story in order to bring the setting to life for your reader.
The general setting and premise for this new story is based on two things I read about a while ago: “Remote Year” and “Cobalt.”
“Remote Year brings together a community of 75 professionals from across the globe to spend a year, working, travelling, and exploring 12 cities around the world. Spending one month in each city, the community will connect with local cultures and business ecosystems, forming lifelong, borderless personal and professional relationships along the way. “
“Coboat is an 82ft retrofitted sailing catamaran and floating co-working space. Circumnavigating the globe and exploring uncharted waters, Coboat will be home and office for up to 20 digital nomads as they collectively set out on a sea-faring adventure combining life, work and play.”
I thought that could provide a really fun backdrop for a romance to develop against. I’m not planning on a cast of 75 characters and I’ll probably limit them to three months and four cities, but the basic idea is there. I’m thinking of it kind of like a “trapped in a country house” feeling, just at sea, preferably with no murders.
With that premise in mind, it’s time to pull out the atlas and decide what cities my intrepid professionals will be going to.
The time period your story is set in can have a big influence on your plot and the actions of your characters. My first book, The Traitor, was set during the Regency period, which impacted the way my characters spoke and dressed, as well as the available technology (or lack thereof), societal expectations, and even how my hero and heroine interacted with each other.
This new story is the second in my contemporary series, so the time period is “kind of now,” with all of the potential technology that provides. The characters will have a lot more freedom than my Regency characters did, but they may very well encounter a variety of societal expectations, depending on the places I have them travel to. Now that I think about it that could provide some interesting conflict, or at least some distracting trouble.
The duration of the story is the amount of time that elapses from the beginning until the end. A story may be time constrained (i.e., 48-hours to save a hostage) or may unfold over an extended period. Whatever the duration, the passage of time needs to be reflected in the story. Part of determining the duration is determining if the story is going to be set at a specific time of year or around a specific holiday or event. A historical novel about Napoleon’s escape from Elba and his march to France, for example, would have a duration of 100 days or less and the time of year would be somewhere between February 1815 and the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815.
As I mentioned above, this story will tentatively cover about a four month period. I’m thinking it starts in early spring but the final decision may be impacted by specific locations I decide on for the characters to travel to and what the sailing conditions at the time would be.
Which means I also need to think about . . .
Weather can help set the mood for your characters and your readers. A story that begins with “It was a dark and stormy night” is going to give a completely different feel than one that begins “The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white.” The weather can also impact your characters. Do they wind up snowed in at a cabin or maybe trapped together when a storm takes out the electricity.
Since the characters in this story will be on a boat, it seems only reasonable that they will encounter some rough weather from time to time. After all, what better way to let your characters show what they are made of than to put them under pressure? Undoubtedly someone will be complaining, someone will be seasick, and someone will step up and save the day. Now I just need to decide who is who.
Once you’ve decided on all the elements of the setting, you need to decide which details are going to help make it come alive for your readers. Once I get my locations nailed down, my next step will be to searching the internet for pictures so I can really get a strong feel for them. I also have a number of travel guides and an old National Geographic photography book – all of which may be good sources of inspiration.
So, if you were spending a year sailing (or traveling) around the world, where would your dream stops be?