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  1. #16
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Wassner
    If I understand you correctly Dawn, we're in agreement here. The story for you comes first and you create or adapt the world to suit what you want to tell and what you want to accomplish.
    That's what I meant.

  2. #17
    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    Back in the early 70s, the US Army manuals defined leadership as the interaction between leader, group, and situation. They traced the leader aspect from Carlyle on till they got to MacGregor and from him to the Ohio State Quadrant and B&M's Managerial Grid. About the time of The Managerial Grid, another school developed that based all leadership emergence on group needs. That starred in the field for around a decade or so until Fiedler came in strong with the situation as the determinant of how leadership emerges. The US Army leadership model defined the process as an interaction between all three; you can't have one without the others.
    The situation between characters and setting seems analogous. Take the following headline: TV spot airs ahead of World Refugee Day. I've omitted one word from the actual headline. What I have presented gives you some information without context or context without information. Does either alternative make sense? If I re-insert the word, you get both information and context: Jolie TV spot airs ahead of World Refugee Day.
    How can characters interact, plots unfold, stories be told without context? I will freely admit you have me befuddled with the notion that setting is irrelevant.

  3. #18
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hereford Eye
    How can characters interact, plots unfold, stories be told without context? I will freely admit you have me befuddled with the notion that setting is irrelevant.
    Who said setting is irrelevant? I wouldn't agree at all to that.

  4. #19
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    And neither would I! It's certainly not irrelevant. I serves many and crucial purposes. All I'm saying is that the world, the setting, need not determine the theme.

    All of this arose in a discussion on world choices today amonst fantasy authors. Someone mentioned the Victorian age as the new time period to set your fantasy in and how it will change the thematic drift that's been popular recently. It could, but it need not. That's all I'm saying.

    Joyce, Fitzgerald, Kafka etc etc all had things to say. The ideas often transcend the circumstances. The circumstances can support the ideas but they need not control them.

  5. #20
    I remember reading LOTR for the first time. In my view Middle Earth was and is the best realized of all alternate fantasy worlds. Of course the main reason for that is depth; one felt that that Tolkien knew the history of each hill, tree and town. He probably did.

    To me the most fascinating charcter in LOTR was Middle Earth itself, I wanted to know more about its history. I wanted to know about the wars with Angmar, the Blue Wizards, the Ent Wives and what was in Rhun where the stars are strange.

    I think a lot of people feel this; the popularity of LOTR is not Bilbo, or Gandalf, it's Middle Earth itself. A world you wish was real. For me this exemplifies how important the setting can be.

  6. #21
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    Boll, I agree completely with you in regard to JRRT. I love that world. I was so fascinated by it when I first read the books that I could never forget it. It was new and awe inspiring. And by invoking a similar world, we can save ourselves all the trouble of building our own. All the good baggage travels with it.

    But not all books can be so original and so brightly conceived.

    Tolkein had his own agenda. And every subsequent fantasy author has his/her own as well.

    Tolkein has given us a platform. Middle Earth is the paradigm. But that doesn't prohibit us from writing fantasy in a comparable world and not making it about the world. He's allowed us to use it as a springboard for other stories and other explorations.

    My concerns are very different from his. My interests are most likely very different from his. Environmentalism wasn't an issue when he wrote his books. Terrorism wasn't either. Yet heroism, honor, courage, love, responsibility, seduction and evil all were. Middle Earth was so beautifully unique at the time it was created, how could we not adore the world and think of it as important as any other aspect of the series?

    In his case I agree totally. You could not conceive of separating the story from the setting. But that doesn't make it a rule.

  7. #22
    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    That is where I disagree. I think it must be a rule. Any specific instance of boy meeets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back again depends upon its setting for its voice. Sleepless in Seattle is the same story as An Affair to Remember but it isn't because the context changed, the settting changed, and ultimately, the characters changed.
    Edding's Malorean is the same story as The Belgariad but it isn't.
    Duncan's Blade stories are the same stories but they aren't.
    What makes them different? Different context, different settings.

    I don't believe you could write your stories in another setting, GQ. I think the stories would change of necessity because the context changes. I think the new environment would not allow the same story. Major elements of plot and character might run the same but the story would change, the characters would change, and the plot would, inevitably, change. Stories are context dependent and cannot be separated therefrom.

  8. #23
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    I think it's a matter of degree that we're debating. Of course things would change. Really though, I am more interested in the idea that setting dictates theme and story, not that they bleed together and influence one another. In some cases, like Mieville perhaps, setting is crucial. With my books, though I love the world I write in, as the author, I feel that I could have chosen a number of different worlds to write my story in. Sure, it would have been different, but for me I feel I could have accomplished what I have set out to accomplish in a very different world.

  9. #24
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    I think I basically agree with Gary. Setting is a tool, how that tool is used depends on the author and what the author is trying to do, the same as with character development, plot structure, pov usage and all the rest.

    Sometimes an author is specifically exploring a setting, sometimes the setting is blurry and indistinct because while it helps shape the story, it's not the main focus of the story, its details do not need to be known. Kevin had a picture of two androids in his art thread in his forum, and because HE found details of the background (setting) odd and thus distracting, (much as Ouroboros is complaining about historical inaccuracies he finds in magical kingdoms,) Kevin tried a version of the picture in which the background was blurred. The first version made the setting integral to the picture, made it part of the main focus. The second put the focus squarely on the two androids, and the exact nature of the setting became less important. Authors can do this too.

    Sometimes having the setting be wrong is the point of the story. If you are writing a comic fantasy, you may very well want your feudal setting to be just serfs in conical hats getting pushed around by guards and knights. And further, you may be drawing the parallel between this idea and modern day office workers versus management. So the setting becomes integral precisely because of its historical inaccuracies. Juxtapositioning bits of history may also be a desired effect. Mieville does this in his work by drawing on aspects of different historical periods that are deliberately suppose to sit next to each other and clash. This happens a great deal in sf as well.

    Even if you were to write a historical fantasy or a magical kingdom fantasy that is extremely historically accurate, with you having done tons of scholarly research to get all the details right, there would still be someone who tells you that you had a buckler buckled to the left and bucklers were never buckled to the left in real life, only to the right. It is not a game you can win.

    So for me, in my WIP, the setting is integral to the story and a main focus of the story. I have to have that setting be interesting to me and hopefully some readers. I have to have it be cohesive and consistent with the logic of the story, have it fit the story and what happens in it. But if historians can't agree on their interpretations of historical feudalism, then I'm not going to worry overmuch if my interpretation of it matches or does not match actual historical feudalism, especially in a place of my own design, if my interpretation does work effectively for my story. I may have something that corresponds to the 13th century of Europe and something that corresponds to the 14th century of Europe in the same story, and both may fit the story. That's not doing pseudo-medievalism; it's creating an imaginary culture.

    In science fiction and fantasy, the setting is what makes it sff. By injecting magical elements, or imaginary science-based ones, and using them to form a new sort of landscape, we tell a speculative story. We are using our imaginations to say what if you had to make a choice and you didn't have hospitals and cops and grenade launchers to help you (setting,) what if you met an alien or an elf or a vampire at a diner (setting,) what would you do? The setting does matter, but the setting doesn't rule.

  10. #25
    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    The analogy originally drawn stated all are essential; ignore one at your peril. To say that a story is not context dependent seems foolish to me. To say that setting takes precedence over character seems equally foolish. To infer that setting and character can get along without a plot is ludicrous. To ignore theme and thesis is, in my mind, equally dangerous.

    When you finish a novel or a short story, you have a total package, totally interdependent. Re-writing to alter any of the parts produces a different story. It may well, as GQ asserts, accomplish the goal the author intended but it will be a different story for the reader and the reader may or may not acknowledge the author accomplished the same goal. I thnk I'd make book on the "may not."

    It's been many, many years since I attempted to read it, but memory says Lawrence Durrell attempted just this ploy with The Alexandria Quartert, telling the same story from four different viewpoints. I read one and two but couldn't get into three and therefore did not see four.
    One and two were totally different stories because the context, the pov, changed. Same characters, same locale, same events, different story. In this case setting included and depended upon pov.
    Last edited by Hereford Eye; June 9th, 2006 at 01:43 PM.

  11. #26
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Gary brought up that this thread came from another discussion elsewhere about how Victorian settings were now trendy in fantasy. These trends tend to come about because a particular author has a success with a setting and other authors using that setting are able to get more attention and interest from readers of the first book, thus bringing that type of setting -- or tone of writing -- more into view.

    However, the perception can be skewed, especially because of fantasy (and sf's) rapid growth. Go back twenty years, for instance, and you had a couple hundred fantasy writers, ten of whom might be doing vampire books. Now you have a couple thousand fantasy writers and maybe 50 vampire books. Has there then been an explosion of vampire books? Not proportionately, no, but since 50 is much more than 10, and since those 50 books now have an opportunity to reach a larger, multi-country audience, they appear to have become a large force.

    There were always authors writing in the Victorian time period or related time periods, but now the pond is bigger and so Victorian stories take a bigger place in it. Likewise we are seeing more than just the occasional Renaissance setting, WWII setting, and instead of just Gregory J. Keyes' "Newton's Cannon" and Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series, we now have a handful of authors working in the 1700's, a number that will proportionately grow. This was always expected to happen in fantasy since the beginning. And publishers have steadily bought stories in settings that they find interesting and perhaps a bit different from classic stories, and those acquisitions then bear fruit when finally released, again building the false perception that there's been a "sudden" shift. (Remember that the fiction you see on shelves was bought anywhere from eight months to two years earlier.)

    Additionally, we have a body of older fantasy, still in print, that was contemporary in its day, but now is historical in its 1970's, 1980's settings. And this is likely to encourage some fantasy authors to explore those decades as well, and others. There are so many wars and major events that an occasional story has touched on, (I remember particularly a story about a vampire in the London Blitz which stuck with me,) but which allow room for more authors to try their different stories upon. There are hundreds of cultures and languages, with thousands of years of history to them, that can provide foddor for historical, alt historical or imaginary realm stories. So it's not really shifting -- it's just expanding.

  12. #27
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    I think we're all making sense. Isn't that nice for a change?

    But I do think so much of this has to do with the author's impetus to write, the intention, the vision that the author has. I did not know I was going to write fantasy when I started. I really didn't. (Do I sound like Rowling?) It just happened. But I did know what I was writing for. I did know what I wanted to write about, even though I wasn't sure where I wanted my story to take place. The world I write in is partially borrowed, partially created. Some of the borrowed part comes from real life, some from my sense of what a fantasy world should be, some of course from Tolkien (since I attribute most modern usages of medieval worlds, elves, dwarves etc. to him) and some is my own vision, my own fantasy. But it evolved, as Alison's world evolved (we've been talking about this elsewhere) and it conformed to my needs and my plot's needs, not the other way around. I think that's my biggest disagreement with you HE. My world developed according to my story's needs. It didn't dictate the story to me. I didn't build my world and then populate it with characters who tell my story. I had people in mind, characters through whose mouths I wanted to speak my mind, debate my issues, discover my own truths. I created my characters and then I dressed them up and dropped them onto the 'go' square. They painted the canvas as they began to walk. It wasn't there first.

  13. #28
    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    But once it was there it conformed to and limited the characters and the plot. That's the only point I wish to make. Once you establish the setting, it limits where you can go. That, I suspect, is why you put it off till late in the game.

  14. #29
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    I kind of think of my world as a place that gets painted on the way. As I walk beyond the limits of a particular city, it comes to life around me. It's not there before I enter it or write about it. Once I create a point on my map, then it comes to life vividly and the details start to become clear. I create places based upon the needs of the story. The story drives the world, and the characters drive the story. (I have to admit that the story has been taking over recently though and leading the characters around by the nose!)

  15. #30
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hereford Eye
    Once you establish the setting, it limits where you can go. That, I suspect, is why you put it off till late in the game.
    That's a very good way of putting the state I'm in, right now.

    An example. There's an "office-scene" early in my WIP. I keep going back to desk. There's a type-writer on it, but it's in a quantum state of uncertainty. Currently nobody refers to it, so it doesn't exist. But does that mean it's not there?

    Currently, I suspect it will officially un-exist by the time I'm done with the setting-edit (which will be a major event after finishing).

    The existance of that one implement may change the emotional set-up of some scenes. But it won't change the plot, and neither will it change the basic relations between the characters.

    Btw, I'm curious what you have to say about setting in Waiting for Godot.

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