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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cabin Fever in Ancient Egypt

Imagine Twilight set entirely in Forks High School.

Think of Old Man & the Sea without leaving the boat. (Makes me want to slit my wrists.)

What would Gone With the Wind have been if it was completely set at Tara?

Envision Memoirs of a Geisha only set in the okiya (geisha house).

Yawn, right? Setting is important. In my writing world, there's the primary setting and then there's secondary settings. (There's also homemade tiramisu for everyone in my world.) My primary setting is ancient Egypt, but my secondary setting changes based on the scene. Maybe it's the womens' quarters (AKA the harem), a banquet hall, Hatshepsut's temple at Deir el Bahri, a boat on the Nile, or the royal menagerie.

The point is, the characters need to move. The setting changes the mood and often tweaks the way events play out. If I kill a character in his chambers at night versus in the menagerie in broad daylight, that's a bit different, eh? (Yes, sometimes Alaskans sound like Canadians.)

Why do I bring this up? Because in Draft #1 of Book #2, I am very aware of the fact that everything so far has happened in the palace. I'm boring myself which really doesn't bode well for other people reading the novel. This happened when I wrote Hatshepsut so I made our darling female Pharaoh take a trip up the Nile. It was fun for both of us (you know I love to travel). Now my second protagonist is going to have to get out of the palace. I was thinking of having her take a chariot ride, but the darn things weren't invented yet so I'll have to come up with something else. Maybe the court hightails it to an oasis or something. I don't know if ancient Egyptians got cabin fever, but I do.

What about you? Do you kick your characters out of their setting comfort zone? Do you find yourself using one setting way too much? Does setting matter all that much to you?

Photo from My Eye on Egypt


Gary Corby said...

If you want to get your character out of her comfort zone, why not send her up the Nile (without a paddle), and fall into the crocodile infested waters?

Stephanie Thornton said...

Gary- I did have a minor character fall into the Nile once, but there were no crocodiles. I'm currently battling Blogger to get a new background up and I just jacked my comments page so maybe someone needs to swim with crocs! Grrrrr....

Jemi Fraser said...

One of my characters has a few scenes where she doesn't want to leave a setting - she's too scared. So I pushed her out :)

I don't know if I've ever become bored with the setting - I actually don't think I notice it as much as some people.

VR Barkowski said...

Setting is huge! After I began writing, I discovered how much more vivid the scenes were that were set in real locations. I ended up re-staging my first two novels, setting them where I was living at the time. I still have too many scenes indoors, but that's another issue.

Susan R. Mills said...

This is so true. One of my beta readers pointed out that I had way too many scenes happen in the kitchen. I don't know, maybe I was hungry when I wrote my first draft. Not only did I take my characters out of the kitchen, but I took them out of the house completely. It's made a huge difference.

Amalia T. said...

I have the worst time with setting. Not so much getting my characters in new places, as figuring out how I want to describe those places effectively. Drives me crazy! Though, now that I think about it, one of my timelines takes place entirely in one place. But I never noticed until now!

Stephanie Thornton said...

Jemi- I'd never thought of a characters not wanting to leave. I think when I write it's the opposite- women who want out, but can't because of the times.

VR- I just commented about that at Matt Delman's blog yesterday. I have to have been somewhere for the setting to make sense. I guess that's why I had to go to Egypt. Twice!

Susan- You gave me a chuckle about the kitchen. I had a beta comment I opened too many scenes with a knock on a door. I realized yesterday I'm doing it again on Book #2.

Amalia- You've got a unique setting- I don't envy your job!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

You know I hadn't really thought about it until now. Okay, that's not entirely true. A few scenes occur in a car, but I had to be careful it didn't become over used. Fortunately there's enough variety in my settings.

But even in a palace, there would be different places to explore both inside and on the grounds, right?

Dominique said...

I've never really spent a lot of time wondering about scenic variation. I always moved my characters in accordance to where they needed to be.

My primary secondary settings are Hiding Place (or rooms within Hiding Place) and Streets. They're different streets in my head, but I don't describe them in detail, so I guess in the eyes of the reader they could all be the same. But, those are the places my MC usually needs to be.

I think, if your MC needs to be in the palace, it'll make sense to the reader that she needs to be there, and it won't seem dull.

L. T. Host said...

There's the crucible factor, too-- well, a part of it. If your characters are in a crucible and can't leave, then the setting doesn't need to vary that much, because that's where the action is. You can use the "can't leave" to give them a good reason to stay in one spot.

Not to say they should stay in the same place throughout the entire book (and it's certainly harder in historical fiction, where you can't just make up a reason), but maybe your characters are in the palace a lot during a certain part of your book because of civil unrest, or plague, or war-- some reason that makes it more dangerous to go outside than stay in. Give them a reason to stay, and you can even show that they don't want to.

Of course, I have no idea if this would help at all, but it's something I keep in mind when I'm writing.

Libbie H. said...

Wow...I've never thought about this topic until I read this post! But it's true. The majority of my scenes in my first novel take place in the House of Women (harem) and the palace, but I mix it up some even within those confines. Different rooms, different gardens.

My characters do get around, though. And I mean get around. The main character does like to go on rides with her *ahem* STEWARD out into the fields where nobody can see them. And toward the end of the book, I have her commit a high-speed chariot-jacking and head for the Temple of Amun. Thank goodness the chariot was around for my setting. Yeesh! It is hard to move characters around in a society that is not particular mobile (and female royalty is often the least mobile of all.)

Good topic!

Dawn Simon said...

I was just thinking about this! Setting is super important, and we need to move our characters around to keep things interesting for everyone! This was harder for me before, but now I think it's fun--and challenging, of course! Great post! And your books sound cool!

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I had exactly the same problem in my first draft (I've now lost count of which draft I'm on). I realized even though there is one main location where the plot takes place, there wasn't anything stopping my some of my characters from moving off the property. Not all, mind you, but some.

It made the manuscript much better. Now I just have to finish whatever draft I'm on now...

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Oooo, excellent post! Yes. I've had to move characters around or shorten the length of time they spend in one place. Your points about setting are excellent. :-)

Stephanie Thornton said...

Stina- My characters do get to move around within the palace, but there's only so many places to go. I think since this is the second book set mainly in the palace I'm the one who's noticing the restrictions, not my characters. :)

Dominique- The character definitely does need to be in the palace. Egyptian female royalty didn't have a lot of mobility. After all, their only job was to bear the Pharaoh sons.

Dawn- I like moving characters around. It keeps me (and them) on their toes!

Elspeth- I have to remember that. Often it makes sense for something to happen at the palace, but it doesn't have to.

Shannon- It's just one more thing for us writers to do! :)

L.T.- I haven't used plague, but I did use war as an excuse to get Hatshepsut out of the palace. For Nitokerty, she got stuck in the palace during war. Poor gal. Or lucky, I guess, depending on how you look at it.

Libbie- Ohhh... Now the field scene you mention has me intrigued. I'm wondering if that's in your first book about Tutmose and Ahmose or Senenmut and Hat. You need to get those books published so I can find out!

Julie Dao said...

Great post, Stephanie! I agree. In real life, moving someone out of their comfort zone exposes the real person inside of them. Why shouldn't we do the same for our characters? It's actually a common thread in all of my stories, now that I think about it. The MC is always forced to go somewhere new... if not at first, then later on.

Steph Damore said...

Good point! I haven't had this problem yet, but I could see it happening. Thanks for keeping me on the lookout.

Lisa and Laura said...

Oh we LOVE playing with setting. It's one of the best ways to freshen up your writing. We always try to imagine places we'd have loved to read about/go when we were younger!