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An Exploration of Setting

March 28, 2014

It amazes me sometimes the amount of time that can be spent thinking about setting before you can even begin writing. I am currently working on a story for a creative writing class that I am taking. The story is supposed to be an homage to “Cities and the Dead” by Italo Calvino, which describes a person’s arrival in a city where everyone is dead including himself. The idea for my project is to explore this setting since Calvino’s story ends with the reveal. This is a city where the people know they are dead, and yet they act like they are alive. My goal is to explore how a person’s life would be in such a city.

When I decided to write this particular story, I did not realize that I would have to spend so much time deciding exactly what the city is like and how it functions. It is hard to write about someone’s life in a city without knowing the city’s layout, the jobs available, housing options, etc. I have now spent quite a while determining how the person came to the city, whether or not he arrived in the same clothes he died in, and how the currency system of the city works. Some of these things that I had to address might seem inconsequential, but without fully fleshing out the setting, it is difficult to get a grasp on how someone would interact with their surroundings.

This is often an issue with fictional settings, something I come across all the time when writing fantasy. World building is an essential part of a story. It determines the backdrop for all of the plot and character interactions. A conversation about lunch would be quite different on a college campus than on a stone bridge over a river of lava. This is why setting has to be well-defined. It creates backstory in itself and can help the narrative to tell a story. Setting is often the foundation for good writing.

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