1. RUBIKSCUBE
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    RUBIKSCUBE New Member

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    Ambiguous urban setting.

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by RUBIKSCUBE, Mar 16, 2014.

    I'm currently writing a novel (about 25k words so far) about a group of vigilantes operating in an unnamed city. I made the decision early on not to use a real-life city as a setting. Equally, I didn't want to create a fictitious setting either.

    So I'm in a bit of a quandary - I know that setting is a key factor in storytelling, but I've been drawn to taking a more ambiguous approach in this case. The main theme I'm going for with the story is the subjective nature of peoples' interpretation of justice, and the disparity between that and vengeance. I want to convey a feeling of self-doubt; questioning their own ethical values and identity. The main characters are all "lost" in that regard, and they are all quite ignorant to the needs of those around them.

    In keeping with that idea, I wanted to avoid giving the scenes a sense of place, by focussing more on the characters and letting the settings take a back seat. So instead of taking place in vivid settings, the scenes take place in pretty subdued backdrops, like an everyday cafe, bar, apartment building. That's not to say there's no setting development, just that it's not emphasised as much as it otherwise would be. The main character has a full-on existential crisis toward the end of the story and I want to convey an atmosphere of complete isolation as he loses the person closest to him. To achieve this, I want to give a certain coldness and disconnect between the MC and the world around him.

    I'm interested in knowing what your thoughts are on this. Does this sound like a bad idea? Have you seen this idea executed well in a novel?

    Thanks
     
  2. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    First of all: welcome to the brain-bashing club :)

    The "setting" in fiction (as I see it) is far from being the "key" element in storytelling. You can go with developing your characters through conflicts and struggles and ups and downs, puting them against each other or facing each other, through depression and hysteria and back again, without ever mentioning a single thing about the "setting". Or, you can have pages and pages of developing background, landscapes, describing every little corner, shadow or trinket.
    You already noticed what I think is the key here - you want to "give a certain coldness and disconect etc" by keeping your setting elements as much in the background as possible. To quote one of my teachers:
    Which in literature means that your focal character (through whose "eyes" the reader "perceives") imprints, so to speak, a part of what you want him to be, to feel and think, upon his surroundings (both on elements of setting and on how s/he perceives other characters). Thus, you can, for example, "allow" your character (and the reader "sitting on his shoulder") not to perceive something, or to perceive it "wrong", or for his perception to differ from other character's perception, all playing the role of showing his "inner workings". In a way, what's really important is to know what is the "purpose" of any particular segment in the "bigger picture" which is, of course, your Story. :)
    And finally, when reading how other authors do it, you may find that it's important to know how to hold those"segments of storytelling" in balance. And it has all to do with the (type of) story you are telling. Too little or too much "setting" is tha same question as: show or tell, dialogue or description, plot or story, orcs or goblins etc :) Some stories can benefit from pages and pages of passive description - other benefit from non-stop action - or big chunks of grammar-free inner speach - or pure, tag-less dialogue...
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you have a good story to tell and write it well enough, nobody will care whether your setting is really 'real' or not, since it will be 'real' to the characters and the readers...
     
  4. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    It should work all right so long as you keep the story tightly focused around the main characters and their immediate surroundings. You did not mention which country the story will take place. Some places will be harder than others to keep anonymous.
     
  5. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Most of my stories take place in fictional cities or towns. Or a hybrid or my hometown. I just take photos from the internet, learn about vegetation etc. in a roundabout area, and research a bit so that when I do describe something, its convincing.
     
  6. RUBIKSCUBE
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    RUBIKSCUBE New Member

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    Thanks for the replies folks!

    It's helpful to get some other peoples' perspectives on this, especially folks who are no doubt far more experienced than me.

    I like the idea of the settings being reflective of the MC's soul, that's the big aim - to have that consistency throughout. And as the character develops, hopefully the description of setting will also evolve concurrently.

    Also an interesting point about allowing the MC not to perceive certain things in the right way. The MC in my story is certainly a little self-centred and ignorant from the outset, so sometimes it seems better to show what's going on through the reactions and body language of the other characters, which may contradict the narration from the MC's viewpoint.
     
  7. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    This seems to be at the heart of your quandary and question, and I can't understand it. Seems to me your city must be either a real city or a fictitious one. But your statements above suggest that you see some third alternative to real or made-up. Do you? If so, what sort of alternative is it?
     
  8. Jecon
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    Jecon Member

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    The readers do not care much about the exact place where the story took place. The readers are mostly interested in the life of the characters.
     

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