I got a bit distracted with the excitement of winning a blog giveaway last week, but here I am, back to blathering about stuff I like and don't like to see in novels. So far I've talked a bit about protagonist and plot... what's next? Ah, yes. The setting.
Patricia C. Wrede wrote in her blog post, Big Three Redux, that most writers can easily pick out their strongest and weakest suit among the three biggies of character, plot, and setting. When I read that, I immediately thought, "She is so right! I bet I'll totally suck at setting." (I did not, however, think I had any strong suits to speak of — because I'm just super humble like that. :P)
When I think of settings, I think of those long descriptions I skim so I can get to the good parts — you know, action, dialogue, things happening. I only need a general gist of where the scene takes place, and my mind fills in the rest. I mean, cool settings are neat, but they don't make or break novels for me the way fascinating characters or mind-blowing plots do. So yeah, I don't pay much attention to settings. Which means I probably won't be good at conveying my mental image of a scene to readers. Definitely something I'll have to work on.
But there's more to setting than making sure scenes don't take place in a void, now that I think about it. After all, why else would I be so drawn to fantasy, if not for the secondary worlds full of magic or talking animals or unfamiliar cultures? Why am I so excited when aspects of a secondary world are not only fun and quirky but also clever and sensible? I might not be very enthusiastic about flowery descriptions of rooms and landscapes, but I find worldbuilding fascinating (probably why I adore Juliette Wade's blog).
And a little intimidating, too. I mean, have you seen this list of fantasy worldbuilding questions?? And readers expect everything to make sense and be internally consistent! (Well, I kind of do, at any rate.) Every plot point I think up results in tons of implications about how thing work in the world in which the story is set, and getting them all to form a cohesive whole, with plausible causes and effects, can be so overwhelming that the task seems impossible.
Still, that doesn't stop me from dreaming of crafting a fantasy secondary world with its own histories and cultures, and then having the world evolve over several books. I'm not a fan of trilogies or storylines that require multiple books for resolution, but you know what I think would be super exciting? A series of standalone companion novels that take place in the same world, though in different eras. I'd want to see how technology and magical knowledge advance, how fashions and speech patterns change, how borders and international relations shift. I want the characters' actions to affect not just themselves, but the characters that live in the world after them.
Of course, none of those things should take center stage; they'd be part of the worldbuilding, and only recognizable to those familiar with other books in the series (ideally, that is). Character and plot should still take center stage (since they matter more to me), but I'd love for there to be subtle references and connections. Like if one character's joke becomes the basis of a popular idiom generations later. Or if a decision made by a character in one installment effects the tense political climate in a book set years after the incident. Or if an innovation that defeated the villain in one book brings about drastic changes in the lifestyles and attitudes of the people who came after. You get the idea.
Doesn't that sound fun? But, alas, this will probably involve wayyyyy too much work. There are authors who have pulled it off, but when I think of the outlining and planning ahead and research and familiarity with the social sciences required... I think I'm crazy for wanting to make things so complicated. But hey, as long as I'm dreaming, might as well dream big, right? :)
Despite my grand plans, I'm going to start small. I've already decided the one non-negotiable thing about the world I'm going to create for my characters: it will be a world where people who look like me exist, and matter. And we'll see how things go from there, based on what I learn about the world from the plot and characters.
Hey, this might actually be fun! Well, until I hit a wall while trying to fit everything together and then want to pull out my hair. But I'll worry about that when I get there. :P
How about you? How much attention do you pay to settings when you read? Do you enjoy worldbuilding?