I listened to a great presentation on this topic by Derek Künsken (https://derekkunsken.com/index.html/) recently. To the point where I wasn’t sure I had anything to offer. However, here we are. Because I have to believe that even when we, as writers, discuss the same topics, we do so in a slightly different way. Otherwise, why would we tell stories?
As I’m sure you know, if you’ve read the earlier blog posts, I’m a very character centered writer. It’s the people and social interactions that fascinate me. Well, with that in mind, perhaps you’re as confounded as I am as to why I locate so much of my fiction in space. Wouldn’t it be easier to locate it in Ontario, Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador? (Even the ubiquitous SomeCity, USA?) I guess. But then I would be confined by history, society, potentially even current politics (Best not to get me started there). A reviewer of one of my earliest submitted Mars stories once wrote that the piece could easily have taken place in a Warsaw Ghetto during World War Two, but that placing it on Mars gave me freedom, unconstrained by the history. Maybe for me, science fiction is my freedom.
So, yes, how easily I digress. Characters/people are my element of choice. But I can’t write much inside of a bubble. There has to be a world, space, in which they interact. You may see that Warsaw Ghetto, you may see Fort McMurray, Alberta, in there. That’s all fine with me. As long as you’re willing to come on the trip.
Example: An Expensive Retreatintroduced people to my colony on Mars. Something changing by the day I should note (https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-44952710). But I can’t go back and change twenty years of story development that easily. So, I’ll persist in my ‘reality’ and figure out how to incorporate the above. I can already think of stories of water chasing ‘cowboy-esque’ heroes racing across the desert as mechanical nomads. But the way it is now, a fledgling society just getting to its collective feet; is this not a reflection of Nadine? It is her growth through the book that allows her to become the governor at the end. To stand on her own two feet and say this isn’t the Mars I want to live in. So, let’s figure out how to change it. (A call to us about our world perhaps? You can find anything you want once you’ve written it.)
Mars is described in how it’s written on the faces of the people that live there.
Terran B is a new-ish project I’ll be going back to in 2019. It’s not in my Mars universe or the one we live in now. For that one, place is only what is necessary. The stone walls cause claustrophobia or security. It is unfinished, so I have not seen it all through Terese’s eyes yet. I can only describe what she sees.
Practicality: You do need some basics. Does your story take place in England? Outer Space? Grenada? How you can develop your location is heavily influenced by where they find themselves. Oxygen isn’t a problem in Grenada but, depending on the time period, space flight might be. Much as I would love to travel to every place on Earth where I have set characters, my bank account doesn’t agree. Luckily, this wonderful internet is a vast and wonderful resource (as long as you avoid the commentary below some news stories). I can see envelopes from 1892 and the weather in Grenada in September. I can see the landscape of Mars and watch her two moons orbit overhead (thanks, Ken).
This post has gotten long. As a little reward for sticking around as long as you have, here’s a couple of snippets about place that I’ve written. Hope you enjoy!
An Expensive Retreat (Through Nadine’s childhood bedroom window):
She slumped back down on the bed and looked out the window. Gradually the noises in the house receded and she was alone with her thoughts. Slowly, at first, people began to come out of their houses. They passed each other on the street, stopping to talk. She could see people laughing and generally getting on with their day. There was no one carrying a water jug though so she quickly checked the bathroom. The water was running again, low pressure but running. The sun had fully risen now and as it reflected off the courtyard walls and sand, it took on a faintly red hue. She imagined that somewhere poets had made a marvel of that colour but it seemed familiar, the colour of home. All the houses had faded over time to match the sand and only the dark grey roofs stood out. There were little swatches of colour though. Some people had hung laundry in their courtyards; children were playing with a red ball in the street and blue fuel canisters stood next to the houses she could see. Someone farther up the street had painted their door a bright sunshine yellow. The world perhaps wasn’t as monotonous as she thought.
Terran B and the Asteriod Belt (Terese’s first view of her underground prison):
For the first time, the reality of where she was sunk in. The tunnel arched well over her, the damp stone for enough apart that she wasn’t claustrophobic. Dim lights hung above them from frayed wires. The whole place reeked of temporality, not somewhere she would have visited before, much less stayed in.
“Come with me. I’ll get you sorted out with the rest of them.” [Lily’s] voice was hard and tired in the gloom. “They died in the crash?”
“No. I didn’t crash.” The certainty in her voice steadied her body somewhat.
The woman stopped short. “What?”
“I couldn’t have crashed. We were too far out. I don’t know what hit us, both times, but I definitely didn’t crash.”
The first sense of uncertainty in the older woman’s voice. “You’d better talk to the others.” She pulled a time piece out of a pocket. “They’ll be out soon enough.” She backtracked through the tunnel and took another offshoot. Terese was lost by the third turn. Hander would have been better situated. Almost anyone would have.
Julianne (Robert’s arrival in his new ‘home’):
Robert sighed and stepped down from the carriage, stiff body protesting. The gentle slope that led to the house had seemed quaint while on the cart but felt uncomfortable as he staggered over the deep pit and towards the door. Even the beauty of the house diminished, the closer he came to the structure. White paint peeled from the frames and doors. The gardens in front of the structure revealed themselves as merely weeds leaned haphazardly against each other. With a look of disgust, Robert stepped up to the door, unsure whether he should walk in or knock. He settled after a moment on a sharp rap, forcing the slightly warped door inward. He entered a spacious foyer, the coolness against his face welcome. The blue and white tile and accented walls rose above him to create an airy feel to the structure.
Questions? Send me all of them!