The Perfect Place

The role setting plays in a story is immense and yet I think it is also undervalued. No story can exist without setting and so it has been taken for granted in most cases. The place a story takes place gives it a unique flavor unlike quite any other story. The way the author describes that place can entirely alter the story. It might just be backdrop, but it alters the characters and what they can do in heir world. How a writer comes about creating the location stems from four types.

First, there is the alternate universe, the future, or a planet in a galaxy far far away. This is always a place that is unbeknown to images us mere humans and so the author has entirely free reign. He or she can make the mountains, the rivers, and the laws of gravity without receiving any argument from the reader. Here is a world where the writer always knows best. It sounds like a writer’s dream. There is no research necessary to bring this world alive on the page. However, as with many things, this isn’t quite so perfect as it seems because there is a thin line that the author must walk between spending to much time describing the world and the polar opposite where the reader is lost in a world where they don’t understand any of the sparsely explained surroundings. I enjoy writing this type of setting, but it’s certainly taxing on the imagination, letting it run free only to realize how hard it is to rein back in!

images-1Secondly, and I think this is an almost equally challenging imaginatively in some cases, there is the historical setting. If your characters are running around fifteenth century Great Britain, you need to know all the details of what their clothes and the architecture would look like to match the scene. Unfortunately, that’s a huge feat of imaginative power for both the writer and the reader because neither have been to that time period and thus need to see all the details laid out on the page. This setting takes first prize for requiring research. Authenticity is a must in setting, so a writer needs to spend a huge chunk of time learning about their character’s world before they can even begin to write the story.

Third, we have the comfort zone of all settings: placing characters in a location that the author has been to, the experienced setting. This is easy and natural. The writer simply dips into their memory,then puts fingers to keyboard and takes off at top Unknownspeed. This can be a hometown or a city visited on a life-changing vacation, maybe even a town that the writer simply happened to be passing through. The characters won’t run into world-laws conflicts or accidentally find themselves in clothes that didn’t exist in their day. However, this might not be the most thrilling setting for the writer. if they know it too well, it’s not a place for them to enjoy discovering with their characters. It’s a tricky balancing act between comfort and boredom.

A happy medium might be found between the feeling of discovery and the problems of setting insecurity by placing characters in a real-world place that the author simply hasn’t visited; the real other. This requires some research naturally, but not an overwhelming amount. It also leaves room for imagination, though far from the wildly unpredictable level of imagination in the alternate universe. This story gives a subtle flavor of exciting foreign-ness while requiring careful attention to details and not wasting space on the page with describing clothes or technology that the reader already understands.

My idea of foreign and alluring

My idea of foreign and alluring

Really, with all four types available, it seems the author has the world at his or her fingertips… except that the setting has to fit the plot. So maybe the story itself really picks the setting and the writer is just swept along, hoping they can cope with whatever type of world they are being thrust into.

With the pick of all four, which world do you most like to read?

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We’re All On Fire

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This morning (yesterday morning now?), I experience the exceptionally helpless feeling of watching my toast catch fire in the toaster oven and not being able to pull it out as it burned to a crisp on the conveyer belt. At the time it was just the cherry on top of an awful dinning hall day, but later it occurred to me that it could be taken as a fantastic metaphor for some people.

The feeling of being unable to put the fire out despite it’s considerable importance, is a feeling that many people experience on a daily basis in regards to their lives. How did I get here? When did I go wrong? ImageRare is the person who doesn’t have nagging worries about things that they simply can’t control. If it’s not their entire life course, then it is the actions of somebody they care about. The fire must be doused, but how, when you simply can’t reach it. The trick is to somehow reach it. For my toast yesterday it was the simple occurrence of the cycle coming to an end, but in reality, putting the “fire” out is far more complex.

Fire is equated with destruction and pain generally. That is no surprise considering is brings both in house-fires and wildfires, destroying lives and livelihood. However, fire also brings light and early on in history, mankind’s use of it differentiated us from beasts. Perhaps the good things about fire exist only because of it’s cons. We can not be made stronger if we do not first survive the inferno and emerge victoriously from the ashes. Holding onto the toast metaphor, I did note that my toast tasted all the better when I finally succeeded, because the struggle made me long for it all the more.

So let the fires of your lives burn, and then emerge, the phoenix from the flames to claim an improved place in the world. What better lesson could a person take from blackened toast in a troubled era of war and economic recession?

Beastly Birds Bringing Bereavement?

Why would anybody care about crows? They aren’t pet material, like parrots, they make an obnoxious racket, and they basically seem dirty. Perhaps Poe’s “Raven” instilled some cultural hate for the raven and it’s close relatives, including the crow, as well. How deep does our distaste for crows go? Let’s take a look. Image

Crows caw. Many birds sing or make no noise at all, but crows are on the opposite end of the spectrum with their discordant squawk. It’s a sound that can sound shivers up the spine and hurry a casual walker along much faster as they try to get away from it. It’s simply not pleasant on the ears, but there are lots of unpleasant things in the world that are still tolerable. What about the caw of a crow is utterly intolerable?

It’s possible our perception of this big black bird is created and driven by the media. That’s right, just blame it on Hollywood.  Edgar Allen Poe started it and they took it from there, placing crows in nearly ever horror movie to hit the silver screen. A crow gets exponentially scarier if it suddenly flies at you from nowhere. Throwing in a crow is the quintessential horror movie “cheep thrill.” But is Hollywood really prevalent enough in our lives, powerful enough in our lives, that it could alter the deep seated disliking of the bird? I think not.

Crows eat other animals. Fine, survival of the fittest; its how the world works. However, it’s a bit more complex than that. We tend to revere the great hunters of the animal kingdom, such as lions, but crows are not great hunters. In fact they are the birds of cowardice as they wait until their prey is already dead and then pick at the rotting meat. What more unpleasant image is there in the animal world? So crows managed to establish their own reputation with a habit like that, but our view of them was made far worse over time by the basic use of the English language.

English can be a beautiful language and the words can be used powerfully.  In the case of crows, only the latter is true. With most groups of birds, you have a flock, but when it comes to crows, you have  a murder of crows. But did that terminology cause the superstitions or did superstitions result in the creation of that term?

ImageAll in all, we expect bad things when we see crows. Therefore, when I looked out my window last night and found that the tops of all the trees (bare branches for the coming winter), were being occupied by a murder of crows that had swelled in ranks to army proportions, I was more than a little displeased by the sight. It was unsettling and ominous. My roommate and I exclaimed in surprised horror as the big black birds took to the sky and we found that their numbers were such that there had to be upwards of two hundred black bringers of death in the sky over our campus. But they’re just birds, like any other innocent creature… right?

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