The setting novel and me

I think of myself as writing primarily plot-centered stories, or sometimes character centered. But I’m wondering if both my last novel and my next haven’t turned into setting stories like Crazy Rich Asians and Airport.

Certainly Southern Discomfort isn’t primarily a setting story. It’s the battle of Olwen McAlister, Joan Slattery and Maria Esposito, among other characters, against Gwalchmai, the elven murderer. But Pharisee Ga. and its people are very much one of the characters. What does the death of Aubric McAlister mean to them? How are they coping with the disasters his death has unleashed? What happens if Olwen dies too? In various scenes we learn about the churches, the business set-up and Pharisee’s complicated race relations. None of this affects the plot, but I think it would be a much worse book if I didn’t include all that.

The downside is that this kind of thing can easily bog down a book instead of enriching it. My previous draft did just that. The scenes that built up the town involved way too many POV characters (one per scene, but taken over the course of the novel …) and rarely had any tension. This go-round I worked on each scene so that the characters wanted something or were worried about something. And I cut into the POV characters by making Father Michael and his brother, the mayor, the key viewpoint characters in most scenes. It still might be too sprawling and lacking in tension for potential readers (certainly it didn’t grab the agents I submitted to). But I’ve rolled my dice, so hopefully it’ll find a home somewhere.

Then we have Impossible Takes a Little Longer. This has always been partly about the weird world that results when millions of people have some sort of paranormal ability β€” psychically healing engines, exorcising ghosts, flying, shrugging off bullets or seeing through walls. And that includes changes to history, politics and geopolitics. Silicon Valley seceded in the early 1980s. The former British colony of Rhodesia is the psionic state of New Zimbabwe. Zohak, a monstrous figure of evil in the Shah Nameh has taken over Iran and forced the rest of the Middle East to ally against him. None of this plays a major part in the plot, though the lack of a computer revolution (“Cyberia” keeps the good tech for itself) does affect daily life (no cell phones, no social media). It’s mostly told in little references and my protagonist’s narration here and there.

Overall, though, it’s been very plot-centric: someone’s targeted KC β€” AKA the Champion, masked guardian of Northwest Florida β€” and she has to find out who before everyone she cares about is dead. Now, it seems to be changing. There’s lots more about the culture and factions of the Impossibles, the really powerful paranormals. About the changes Mayor Darla Jeffries has made to New York City. Then came the chapter I worked on Tuesday.

(Dinosaurs, conquistadors and Romans hanging out? Yes, that could easily happen in Impossible).

I’d already established the existence of the extraterrestrial Stardians (think of them as a second-string 1980s cartoon/toy line) next to Dallas, replacing a kind of alt.Comanche empire I had in the previous version (as discussed here). And that KC got a lot of help climbing out of the train wreck of her teenage years thanks to the insight of the Stardian mystic Darkbreaker. So I planned to have her talk with Darkbreaker about what’s going on, but the novel’s bad guy interrupts and takes him down.

Only now the Stardian city is getting much more elaborate and colorful and taking up a lot more space. To reach it, KC’s walking across a mile-deep chasm on a bridge that appears to be crystal and ceramic. I honestly have no idea what it’s like on the other side, but perhaps I need to explore it.

As it’s a first-person narrative I don’t have to worry about too many POV characters. However this draft could easily end up being too talky or showing too much worldbuilding. Which a lot of people like, but I usually don’t, so I’d rather not go that route.

But for the moment, I guess I’ll follow where my instinct leads.

#SFWApro. Art by Howard V. Brown, all rights to image remain with current holder.

 

4 Comments

Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Southern Discomfort, Writing

4 responses to “The setting novel and me

  1. Pingback: Crawling from the wreckage | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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  3. Pingback: Juggling, insomnia and a wendigo! Okay, I was kidding about the wendigo | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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