Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Cheapest Way to Travel: Short Stories and Settings

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 I wanted to welcome Matt Demko on my blog today. It's so nice to share the space with visitors!!
 
The Cheapest Way to Travel: Short Stories and Settings

Maybe it’s a strange way of doing things, but when I begin formulating ideas for a new story, the first aspect I usually consider is the setting. My hope is that my comedic short stories can send readers on little vacations, that they can be transported for a half-hour, an hour, to someplace where it’s fun to be, the way James Taylor goes to Carolina in his mind.

The best way to achieve that effect is to come up with a place that just seems to lend itself to drama, laughs, action: a summer camp, a comedy club, even an assisted-living home. Once you’ve hit upon this setting, it becomes fairly easy to fill your work with the types of colorful people who in real life would tend to gather at such a place. 

You might also want to make your setting a place you only wish you’ve been or wish you could go, like Paris or a colony on the moon. (You can forget about Internet airfare discounts; writing is definitely the cheapest way to travel.) Just be diligent about researching places you’ve never visited – readers pick up on the tiniest mistakes! In fact, if you set your story in Thailand, and you’ve never actually been there, see if you can find a proofreader from Thailand on Twitter, Goodreads, or another website.

A great pleasure of the writing life is conjuring up fond memories. And creating a setting that’s similar to a significant place in your life brings memories roaring back with startling vitality. For example, imagine that you worked at an arcade as a teenager in the 1980’s. If you composed a story set in a 1980’s arcade, the process of describing your fictional arcade would induce you to recall events and atmospheric details long forgotten. What’s more, as you type away, people you haven’t seen in years will return for a visit. Vividly they’ll dance in your mind – old friends, acquaintances, dates, your first boss. Your writing will become a time machine.

Note, too, that at times your plot can alter your setting. Say that you’re writing a scary story about someone whose car breaks down at night. As you’re going along, you might decide to change the time period from present-day to the early 1990’s. After all, with not a cell phone in sight, your hero’s that much more isolated.

 

 
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2 comments:

  1. Very informative post. I've always throught of a plot first and then worried about the setting later. Of course this did lead to a complete rewrite, so perhaps next time I'll take the time to plan out the setting before I start writing.

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  2. It's a good point actually to have a setting in mind before starting a book. It can enrich the descriptions when a writer puts more emphasis on where the story takes place. Thanks Matt :-)

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