No, not like Aladdin, though that was a pretty cool movie. I am speaking of the totally awesome worlds we build up in our imaginations. We’ve done the characters, we have the outline for our plot, and now we need the ever-important setting. Wait, what’s that? Oh, come on, people, you’re writers! You know what setting is! That place where your people do all of the things!
So, what does your setting look like? Now, you can be one of those cheater folks (and, trust me, there is nothing wrong with cheating) that puts all their work in the real world. It’s a good decision to do this; saves time; puts 80% of the work on the already existing planet upon which we all roam. Still, some work will need to be done. Are you intimately familiar with this plot of land on which your characters tread? Did you grow up there? Do you live there now? If not, how do you know about this place? This is where Google comes in with all its fun bells and whistles. There are Wiki’s on various places, Google Maps gives you aerial views of far away lands you may never be able to afford to go see in person. However you research it, research does need to be done. Because, while you may use United States, Earth as a setting, that is still a big place. So, you narrow it down further to, say, Southern California. Good, getting better, still a really big place. Fine, Ms. Nit Pick, Pasadena! Brilliant – have you been there? Did you know that the crosswalks go diagonally on the regular? Do your characters tromp all over Pasadena or do they stay in their tiny little mission-style home two miles over from Old Town? These are all the things you still need to build. What does the house look like? Windows open or closed? Avocado green carpet or something more modern? Time plays a key role in your setting as well. Things are much different in Pasadena now than they were fifty years ago. But, even still, the majority of the work has been done for you, you just need to know where to look. Good on ya!
Now… what do we do if our setting isn’t United States, Earth? Heck, what do we do if it isn’t Earth at all?!
Fear not, dear writers, that is why we have copious amounts of imagination. We’ll take fantasy fiction for a twirl on this example but it works for most any other genre you can think of as well. Sit, grab your coffee, tea, or wine (bourbon works too), hit play on that playlist you’ve carefully compiled if that is your flavor and close your eyes. Picture the place where your character spends the most time. Can you see it? Her bedroom, maybe; a pub? All of these mundane things exist in a fantasy world – people still need to eat and sleep, after all. What does it look like? Is it marble, wood, hollow cave? Now take a single step back. Where is that room, we’ll say. In a house? What does that look like. What about the street it’s on? Dirt? Gravel? Nothing but open fields as far as the eye can see? What about the field? Where is that? What is the name of the city? Is it a state or province? What about the country? Oh, now we’re getting to the good stuff!
Do they know about democracy? Does a king rule? A queen? Evil tyrant, maybe? What kind of things does this play grow? Import or export? To where? It seems like a lot, right? Well, that’s because it is. It’s hard to build a world but it is also dreadfully important. There are details that you, as the author, need to know even if your reader could give two squirts about the place. The detail is what makes it real, what makes the reader not care because it’s already ingrained in their mind as an authentic place to set their little toes wiggling around in. If it helps, sketch out a map. It doesn’t need to be a work of art; just a general outline of countries if you go that big, or even just a small street map of the local city your heroine runs around in. She needs to know where she’s going as if she’s lived there all her life cuz, chances are, she has! Make the reader believe it. Give her currency, let her explore and talk to the locals for flavor. Every little thing she touches or sees enriches the world that the reader gets to experience – real or otherwise. Make the experience a good one.