Out of Setting Comes Action
Tuesday night at the South Bay CWC, I heard Tanya Egan Gibson give a great talk about world building. Now, Tanya doesn’t write fantasy or science fiction. She doesn’t write historical. She writes, in her own words–satire.
Not a genre you necessarily think of as needing a whole lot of world building. But Tanya does. I’m guessing she would say that any genre demands world building.
Because when you build your story world, that world, in turn, steps in to impact, if not drive, what your characters will do.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately, as I do more research about 1910-1915, Chicago. (And, yes, I am SO going to read Kristin O’Donnell Tubb’s Selling Hope, set in 1910 Chicago–just as Hailey’s Comet comes through.) In my first draft, I did research as I wrote, but I was focusing on getting to the story, to Caro’s story, not worrying as much about filling in the world around her. And this was good, because I not only got to the story, I got to two stories, which–overwhelming as it felt at first–was the right discovery for me to make.
But I’ll tell you, it was frustrating to write without setting. I found myself giving Caro and her supporting cast the same tasks over and over. I had her reacting in situations where I didn’t know precisely what she was reacting to…or with, which pretty much made her feel (at least to me) hyperbolically melodramatic. Yes, that much. I do like the bracket as an early-drafting tool, but by the time I wrote “The End,” I was pretty sick of typing it all over the place.
I can’t write another draft this way. For my sanity, a big piece of Draft 2 is going to be setting research. Or, yep, world building. I am going to populate my notes and my scenes with real furniture, real architecture, real food, real lifestyles. I’ve already started. And you know what? As I research, as I find out details, I’m getting ideas for the actions my characters will take–things they can do in their world.
During her talk, Tanya said, “If you furnish the place, people can live in it. And they will live large.”
I leave you with this scene from Shanghai Knights. Look at the setting. Look at the way Jackie Chan uses the setting. Yes, sure, he knows the moves he wants to make. He knows the comedy he’s going to weave into the fights. But he also knows that setting can create action, can set up opportunities for anything and everything to become a piece of his choreography. I can just see him–Okay, let’s see. Open market…chase scenes…dodge the carts…duck between people…oh, hey! Lemons! And umbrellas!