So, Adventurers, last week, I mentioned briefly that I had read over my draft, tweaked my outline, and started revising Chapter 1.
Now I’m in the middle of Chapter 3, and I’m really really happy with how things are progressing. Already, AMD&B is so much better. My self-imposed deadline of March 22 (my 25th birthday! And exactly six weeks from tomorrow) is creeping closer and closer, but instead of dread, I’m only feeling motivated. I can do this.
Some really great things have happened this week. MY favorite, of course is this, which I tweeted about on Monday Night, which ties in PERFECTLY with what I wanted to talk about today:
It’s a map of the actual settlement that my (fictional) town, Asylum, is based on–and I now have a high-res version!! I haven’t talked much about the historical research that I’ve put into AMD&B, but I’ve done quite a bit to ground my story in reality. The super-summarized version is this: In the 1790s, a group of French Aristocrats and royalists and Haitian landowners fled the revolutions happening in both places and settled along a horseshoe bend in the Susquehanna River in Northeastern Pennsylvania. In reality, the town of Azilum faded into nothing by 1803, and now, only the foundations of a few buildings and a rebuilt Grande Maison–the home they were building for Marie Antoinette(!)–remain. You can read more about it here on Wikipedia, or visit the French Azlium website.
The great thing about fiction, though, is that I get to make things up. When I was first brainstorming AMD&B, I knew very little about the setting, other than the mountains of PA where I grew up. I wanted something to ground it in local lore and tradition, so I started digging around. When I stumbled across Azilum, I really fell like the rest of the story fell into my lap–if I hadn’t decided to set my story here, almost every single thing about it would be different. In AMD&B, the town of Asylum is the modern incarnation of Azilum, if it had survived into the 21st century.
AND NOW, I have my hands on a high-resolution version of this map, which makes things so much easier to orient myself when I’m writing. Obviously, the town would have changed over the 200+ years of existence, but not remarkably so – at least, in my version, the 18th century bones of Asylum are still present, and the French influence is still apparent in place names and surnames. I have pages and pages of backstory on the town–things that will never, ever make it into the pages of my novel–but I needed to do that in order to make it feel real.
In my experience, until I’ve figured out the nuts and bolts of a setting, there’s just something off about anything I’m writing. Something missing. That being said, the setting is also probably the thing I struggle with most while I’m writing. It’s something that takes me a long time to get right, which means it’s something that always needs desperate attention during revisions–like right now, and I’m happily indulging.
Here are some things I like to keep in mind while working on setting:
- Am I showing too much or too little? Am I rambling on about nonsensical details that don’t matter, or am I guilty of white room syndrome? The key here is balance: show enough to the reader so they aren’t disoriented, but don’t go overboard discussing the era of the bathroom fixtures. Leave room for imagination.
- Am I keeping it authentic? AMD&B takes place in a rural mountain town–not exactly the kind of place you’d expect fancy cars, designer labels, or a flashy nightclub. Life there is slow and things are worn around the edges.
- Am I choosing the right setting for the story I’m trying to tell? Like I said before, if I had chosen to set this story somewhere else (like the deep South–I am writing a Gothic, after all!), it would be completely unrecognizable to me. It wouldn’t work anywhere else, since Azilum is so entwined with every major aspect of my plot.
What about you, Adventurers? Do you have any questions about settings, or is that something that comes easily to you?
The featured image is a view overlooking the Susquhanna River near the site of French Azilum by Nicholas A. Tonelli via Flickr – Isn’t it beautiful?!