Welcome to #WoW – Workshop on Wednesdays.
Thank you to Artoon Srivalli Rekha Mantrala for the fascinating post on fantasy settings. Today, we are going to take a look at the opposite – Real world setting.
Before we begin, let’s do an exercise. Close your laptops or mobile phones right now, and go out to the street. In a piece of paper, note down ten different things on the street you could observe within a five-minute period. Done? Good, let’s begin.
EXERCISE: A man and a woman are standing in a street. They are talking/ arguing/ flirting/ frowning/laughing/staring in silence.
Now, pick one action option and select five things you noted from your street that could be used to provide a perfect setting for the selected scenario.
Enter your answer in the comment section. It should be like: A man and the woman are standing in a street. They are flirting. Things I noticed from my street that could be used for providing a setting in this scenario are: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
Done with the exercise? Great, let’s proceed.
What are the things to be considered to pick a particular setting?
- Genre: A park might be better suited to a romance story than a horror story.
- Scope of the story: Once you have your plot and characters ready, you could decide the setting based on them. For example, if you are writing a story about a spy, then it could occur anywhere in the world. On the other hand, if your story is about a municipal worker in a small town in India, your scope will be much more limited. When you don’t have a particular place in mind, you could search for suitable places that might fit the purpose. Sometimes, deciding a setting upfront might help in developing the plot as well.
- Familiarity: Real world settings might look simple enough, but are quite tricky. Unless the writer has an intimate knowledge of the setting, they shouldn’t provide too much focus on it. If you want to write a story about a local train journey in Mumbai, it doesn’t make sense to write it if you haven’t traveled on the train at least once. When you are intimate with a setting, you become aware of not only how the place looks, but also how it smells, sounds, and feels. You know what sort of people live/work/pass through there. You know what to eat where, that little mom and pop store in the area and the nice old lady who sits inside.
Now, this is absolute power in the hands of a writer who could use their knowledge to turn the place into a living, breathing character in their story. My favourite author, Ian Rankin, is a master of this craft. In his Inspector Rebus series, the city of Edinburgh is treated as a character in itself. Another example I could give you is Charles Dickens’ portrayal of London’s different areas in Oliver Twist, making the city like a two-faced entity not dissimilar to its denizens.
- Action: Choose the setting based on the action unfurling in the scene. Even in short stories, it is not unusual for the story to be set in different places.
- Time: Is your story happening in the morning or the evening? In spring or in summer? In the present or the past or in the future?
- Mood: What are the characters’ moods in a particular scene? Are they happy? Sad? Tensed? Scared? The right setting would act as a force multiplier for the scene.
Tools to write about a Real Setting:
- Recce: If you are familiar with the place, excellent. If not, do consider visiting the place and spending some time there. (Not saying you should pack your bags immediately for exotic locations immediately. Still, if you can, brilliant)
- Phone a friend: Indians are everywhere, and someone always knows someone somewhere. Work through your contacts. Ask questions about their surroundings, the climate, frequency of rain/snow, what are the local slangs that are in everyday usage, the types of vehicles in their neighbourhood…the more details you get, the better. Ask them to send pictures or videos to get a visual idea of the place.
- Travel Blogs: There are dedicated travel blogs and YouTube channels that are treasure troves of information.
- Google Maps: Use the street view to find out the names of streets, shops, schools, and other landmarks.
- Web Search: If nothing else works, a simple web search might get you going.
- Research Journals: If your story is based on historical events, then research journals and historic accounts are the way ahead.
Exercise Part 2: You have your scene ready and the five elements from the street you have selected. Combine these with what we have discussed (action, time, mood, genre, etc) and write about the setting within 100 words.