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Starting With a Setting

9 months ago
I just scribbled down seven paragraphs about seven locations, and I'm just looking over them and salivating like 'yes yesss there's so much cool and weird shit going on here just under the surface, I can sense it, let me abandon this other project that I'm already behind on and lay it all out in detail. At some point a plot will make itself known. Probably. Maybe. Who cares this setting fuckin owns.'

It always happens like this and I love it as a thought exercise, but I hate it because it's such a bass awkward way to approach a story and yet I can't stop myself. Any characters and anything they do will wind up primarily existing as a vehicle to explore the cities and the culture and the secrets behind the lore unless I take serious, deliberate effort to make this not the case.

Anyway I was going to write out some kind of essay here but actually, never mind, it's late and I have nothing to say except don't me like me, this is a bad way to write. :(

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago

*Points and laughs*

Just focus on one of them and only bring in the others as needed for the story.

I had a whole bit where the Necromancer was going to go to the dragon graveyard and raise an undead dragon, but it just never materialized because it just didn't fit it with the flow of the story.

You still have the notes of what you've written, just keep them for another story if necessary.

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago
That's another benefit of massive CYOA with lots of branching, you could absolutely have claimed there was a secret path where this happened and people would have believed you. I'll be adding 'a story expansive enough that discovering a secret actually feels like discovering a secret' to my list of things to strive for.

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago

If there's one way for certain that you can keep characters from becoming a safari van through the setting, it's making that person part of the setting itself. Get a sort of "Establishing protagonist" who's involved in things before the story even begins. They have a job that directly effects the world around them, and a cast around them that actively live in that world. Authority figures are easy go-tos for that, which is why you have so many nobles in Game of Thrones in comparison to all the "Adventurer" types you see in other fantasy books.

And make sure there's a few different viewpoints and knowledge of the world from all over the place (Either in the form of recurring characters who talk to the MC often, or in the form of multiple protagonists, even though that may be much more difficult) that can be brought to the character in order to entice the reader with bits and bobs of an interesting world. Just do everything you can to focus on a few things and try to build up before you built out, because if the character has to travel all over to learn the things you want to write about, it's going to feel like a guided tour, which ain't no good.

Focus on one society, aspect, quest, etc. and add in bits from other places here and there to convey the bigness and interacting locations of your world. This is how series are made and many, many points are fished.

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago
Well that's the challenge, the character has to be a part of the world and have a reason to go places and do things, but the reader themselves know diddly squat and so all the things that are common knowledge have to be carefully spooned into their mouths in a way that doesn't fall into the classic talking heads or infodump traps when obviously the characters themselves already know this shit.

Multiple viewpoints and different levels of knowledge are fun. You'd be amazed how often people assume things like 'well a random baker said it, it MUST be true!' when we're talking about things like a complicated magic system or what the nobles are getting up to.

And there's probably a trope for this but I like having the common assumptions about historical events or whatever proved wrong or to be missing key details once the protag starts probing at them a little.

CYOAs are actually excellent for the 'bits and pieces' approach because I can tuck little details here and pretend to myself that someone will pay enough attention to piece it all together, and also of course it's easier to cover a couple of different locations per path in a natural way rather than making it the full guided tour. In game books and the like are also a possibility.

Anyway I'm not really complaining because I absolutely enjoy thinking this kind of thing out in detail, I just get annoyed when I have to switch modes and start worrying about that pesky 'plot' business...and then I get even more annoyed because the plot and themes and character development and all that are supposed to be what the story's about in the first place and what is wrong with my brain.

I mostly develop characters by running them repeatedly through scenarios once their setting is in place and detailed enough to be the backdrop of what's essentially a movie in my head. I get cool ideas for scenes this way and it's a nice way to pass the time if I'm standing in line at a grocery store or whatever, but it rarely turns out anything that can support an entire plot. (Well, maybe a short story...)

I'm not sure at what point this all became normal to me, but this is how stories have developed themselves in my head for as long as I remember. It's been kind of a weird experience forcing myself to take a saner and more deliberate approach to writing out plots lately, especially with all the short stories I've been writing. I'm still fully aware of the setting details so it's just brutal slicing them out entirely or going with generic fantasy things, but usually all these AMAZINGLY FASCINATING tidbits aren't necessary to the plot and would only be a distraction. While padding out the word count explaining it all when it doesn't matter would screw up the pacing over something that ultimately doesn't matter.

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago

I mean, technically, there are ways to work in all the fascinating tidbits outside of short stories. Short stories may be an especially good way to go about it, since that is how the fiction market seems to be going these days (Quite a few "Books" on Amazon that sell pretty well are around 20-30 pages in MS Word, and that one millionaire-ass author who wrote the detective books that Morgan Freeman did the movies for is moving into flash fiction.) This will allow people who've read a lot of your stuff to have an in-depth knowledge of what's going on, and any bits and pieces you add, if blatant enough, will maybe get readers interested in reading the stories you've written about those other places.

But, as someone who's tried for years to try and describe penguin-people in-story (And giant talking baboon fairies, just recently) in a way that people care about without making the protagonist a penguin-person all the time, I've found a good excuse to make it part of the story is to make it part of someone's character development. Explain why they're familiar with new, otherearthly aspects, or why something's strange, weird, or offensive. Provide exposition, but give the character's thoughts, opinons, and reactions so the plot sort of moves, and no one can seriously accuse you of doing a C.S. Lewis dump.

Non-linear narratives also open up the option for a sort of "Multi-questline", where multiple short story plots of info and character development can be covered on the way to the ending. However, this can end up being a massive, unending timesink if you don't keep your structure together.

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago

Or someone who has a job that requires traveling, like the courier in New Vegas. There you have someone familiar with the world, who has to move about and introduce the viewer/reader to it. 

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago

There was a very unique solution to the problem of how do you make the player and the player character feel aware of their surroundings in the unlikeliest place: Hatoful Boyfriend - an alleged Japanese Bird Dating simulator. (mild spoilers) You play as a human female in a post-bird-apocalyptic elite school Academy in post-bird-apocalyptic-Japan (where you're the only human in the school, as a pilot project). The main story has a number of romanceable paths (including one where your head is cut off and kept in a jar - understandably you die in that one. Also, not romancing anyone is also an option). The paths themselves are fairly mundane and slightly above average in writing and world-building. However, once you finish them, you unlock a new route, where everything you've learnt about everyone's personalities enriches the experience significantly (and provides relevant plot points). (/mild spoilers) The game is a great (though fairly hard to reproduce) design choice for how to build a story where the player isn't fresh to the world, and uses that experience to lead a narratively rewarding story.

E: Come to think of it, this design is actually highly doable in a CYoA. Force a player to play as say all four jobs in your game, and then unlock the 'true' path where you use your inside knowledge from all previous 'lives' to win this one. Huh. May use this in a later project.

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago
Meh. Couldn't sleep.



You oil your pistols, and strap them to your side with the sabre. You dust off your broad-brimmed hat, for three months unmoved from its hook by the door. The plumes are limp and tattered.

Buttoning your long brown coat, you give the mirror a dubious glance. Your eyes are bloodshot, and your face is lined and worn. You look tired. You feel tired.

You probably should have shaved. But the gold-robes will be expecting you soon.


It rained last night and the horses plod along with difficulty through the mud. Twice the carriage nearly gets stuck, but you make it up the hill to the gloomy old castle without incident.

Tarrengot is waiting, and after making studiously polite inquiries into your health--the kind that make it clear he’s not looking for answers more involved than “I’m fine, thank you.”--he leads you to the candle lit council chamber where the others have assembled. When he takes his place among them, the shadows playing across the hoods of the deep yellow robes mean he’s only distinguished from his fellows by the heft of his paunch.

“It’s good to see you again, Helsen.” rumbles the deep, authoritative voice of Grandmaster Yerredin. The ring bearing the seal of the Golden Ram gleams on his finger. “We had our concerns.” You hear murmurs of agreement from the others.

No one ever calls you by your first name of Conway. It’s always Helsen the Tracker, or for formal occasions, Helsen, Knight Pursuant. In the taverns, it’s Helsen the Hound.

You remove your hat and give him a curt nod. “My...vacation, did go a little long. Things were just...starting to get to me. But I’m ready to get back on the job again, sirs. If there’s any work to do.”

A few dry chuckles now at your small joke. There’s always work to do. Always.

“Hmph. Well, we’ve actually been fortunate. It’s been a quiet few months, as far as these things go.” Yerredin sweeps a few papers up off a table. “But if you’re quite certain you’re ready to resume your duties without any repeats of the earlier incidents, there are a few small matters that need looking into.”

Well, that works for you. You still don’t feel completely recovered, if you’re being honest with yourself. The nightmares have persisted for far too long this time, for one thing. But perhaps you can sort of ease back into the job, this way.

“I’m ready as I’ll ever be. What am I dealing with? Little girl lose her cat up a tree?”

More quiet chuckles, silenced when Yerredin clears his throat and begins to shuffle papers. “A few of these can wait. But there are two reports that need attention. The first was just down the hill in Balefen, two nights ago. A farmer in his thirties heard a disturbance in the pig pen, went to investigate, and was torn to pieces and partially devoured.”

You nod. Seems pretty straightforward. Even one of the apprentices could probably manage this. Balefen wasn’t a large village.

“Dead or alive?”

“If you could capture the guilty party in their human form and get a confession it would be ideal. But a silver bullet works as well as a rope, and the main thing is to prevent further killings. Use your judgment.”

“Right. And what’s the other item?”

The Grandmaster flips to another page. “Hrm. No deaths yet, but they’ve been reporting sightings of falgyar in Stackton Eastmill.”

You have to raise a brow at that. “Stackton, really?”

The falgyar were once a kind of gargoyle. Very different in appearance than the sort the Ministry of Justice in Central Stackton uses, but created through essentially the same process, back in the Old City before it fell. The falgyar were said to have been freed from their masters then, but also corrupted and cursed. Yet even their descendants rarely strayed far from the Old City’s ruins. And regardless, one just didn’t see that sort of thing in neat, orderly Stackton. Not even in Eastmill. The town lacked the...vertical element the fallen gargoyles preferred, if nothing else.

“Yes, really. We thought it odd too, but they’ve been confirmed by multiple people. We’ll provide you a map of the sighting locations, when you're ready to take care of this.” Yerredin shrugs. “But if you’d rather focus on the Balefen slaying for now, that’s understandable. I imagine a nest of falgyar won’t be too difficult to locate once you’re ready to deal with them, and I question why the Stackton authorities haven’t done it themselves.”

“And, ah...” Tarrengot waves for the Grandmaster’s attention and starts to speak up, then hesitates, giving him a questioning look. “The note from Judge Korrin?”

“Oh, right.” Yerredin turns to you. “A trivial matter, but it was a personal request, and you know we have few enough friends in the Ministry. There was apparently a complaint three nights ago of someone driving an automobile through Balefen.”

Trying to disguise a short bark of a laugh, you start to cough. That wasn’t what you’d been expecting at all. “Goodness. That poor village. Werewolves are one thing, but I’m sure they weren’t expecting a joyrider.”

“Yes, well as you can imagine they were rather displeased. It was going very fast, they reported. And it was...pink.”

You snort.

“So, yes...if you’ll be traveling back and forth anyhow, keep your eyes open. I know it seems rather silly, but Ministry insists they gave no one permission to leave the city limits in an automobile, and it hasn’t yet been returned, so one wonders what the driver is getting up to out there. And of course this is a breach of the treaty. The Ministry is taking it very seriously, and would like to see the perpetrator fined and imprisoned, and made to issue an apology.”

“All right. So...werewolf, falgyar, asshole in a pink car. That about the size of things?” Yerridan nods in the affirmative, and you snort again. “All due respect, Grandmaster, but you weren’t kidding about things being slow. Sounds like I could’ve taken another week off.”

“But we’re glad to have you back, regardless. Now...” The hand that bore the ring hesitated over two sheets of paper. “Will it be the werewolf or the falgyar you deal with first?”

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago
I'm not continuing this or trying to turn it into a storygame anytime soon if anyone was wondering, it has been filed carefully away with all the others and I'm back on my main project now that the voices have been pacified.

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago
I do the opposite lol. I flesh out characters - tons of them. Plots and how they're all intertwined or not and all their life stories and dreams and personalities. No idea where the fuck they should be. Setting is really difficult for me :(

I try looking at artwork online to get a feel for a setting, but it never sticks with me. I try being poetic about it, fleshing out settings like poetry and being very metaphoric but it ends up sounding like a 4th grader sat down with a book of adjectives and described a stormy night in several paragraphs. Even then I'm not happy with any settings I've ever come up with. Too much detail or too little detail all the time.

I always end up limiting the setting to places people already know about and can fill in the lack of writing about setting with their own knowledge. Example: a gas station. All gas stations are essentially the same, people know what's at a gas station. I don't need to describe or build a gas station in my mind because everyone already knows. This confines the characters though :( so I use a lot of dialogue/thoughts to fill space.

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago
I write pretty much exclusively fantasy and sci fi, and so I can kind of do this if I stick entirely to regurgitated Tolkien/D&D or Star Trek/Wars space opera type stuff. That's all familiar enough to people it doesn't need any further explanation. An elf is an elf, or I can just say 'activate the warp drive' and we all know what it does, who cares how it works.

Any more detail than that though and the setting HAS to be decided on and established first, or at least the central conceits of it. If something about it is markedly different from the world around the average first world reader, it's going to make a difference. Whether it's just a time period or culture, or the actual laws of physics being bent by magic and also everyone is ruled over by group of necromancers waiting to claim the bodies and enslave the souls of your departed loved ones to grow their army, it's all going to have a major effect on the lives and personalities of the characters and create situations that drive the plot to an extent you can't just come up with those things separately and graft them on wherever. In order to know who a character is or what they'd do, I have to know where they're coming from.

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago
Yep, for my work I go Core Idea (e.g. new tech) > Why was it needed > How did it happen > Who gained, who lost > What interesting things happened (narrative) > What's the 'next big thing' people are looking towards.
Leaves me with lots of research notes and plot ideas, then the entire challenge is making it all cohesive (couldn't finish this with Danse Macabre for End's contest on time). Mizal - I envy how your can't sleep writing is better than most 'been writing for weeks' writing. That said, I haven't seen your sci-fi, and am curious to see what you create.

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago
Honestly the sci-fi I write probably isn't what you'd consider real sci-fi, they're adventure stories more than anything else and I like to keep them pretty well divorced from Earth in time and location. (Difficult to imagine a near future that isn't grim as fuck tbh so otherwise the best I can come up with is stuff like The Only Peace Possible.)

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago
The 'near' future is fine, it's at least 10-15 years before things get seriously hairy, as far as the evidence goes.

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago
hmu if ur dtw together some day (a day I'm not below 2800 points, preferably) cause I can totally character++ for a setting

I basically only write sci fi (cyberpunk or future settting) or modern time stuff (which usually has sci fi aspects too). I get too realistic and detailed with it though, to the point where the fantasy aspect is that theoretical computer concepts are true in the future :P

I get carried away with life stories, characters and all their aspects often represented in the editor as variables (sometimes down to minute details that might be important to the later story like fingernail length). Too realisitc really. Fitting entire lives of people who don't exist into a work of writing and anticipating tons of outcomes and reactions and randomness that comes with being human just overwhelms me but I can only think of the characters and situations as a plot - never a setting.

For example: I start with a girl. She has red hair, blue eyes, freckles, she's 5'5", 19 years old, and has just moved into an aprtment of her own. I start thinking about her life up to that point - major things, the type of guy she's into, the one time she was sexually assulted in some way, what she was like as a kid, the stigma she probably dealt with as a child for having red hair or dressing a certain way, etc etc. All these things relating to how and why she does what she does as she is now and how it affects her choices in the future. The problem with CYOAs in this case is that people don't read or care about backstories so they'll choose to play her however they want which = random choices + choices that she'd make + choices that make sense (all not mutally exclusive). Each one affecting variables and paths to the future as the choices move to the past and the character changes to adapt to the situation.

However, the apartment is just an apartment. Cheap, probably, but that's all I can think about unless it's a magical apartment - then the apartment becomes a character itself in my mind. There are reasons from the past that show why the apartment has secret doors and who lived there last and who was most significant to the room itself and how it's been treated over the years. Personification of the setting then makes it too difficult to understand (for the reader and the author) so I end up just looping back and saying it's just a cheapo apartment downtown /end setting.

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago

Ford writes?

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago
I wanted to make this joke but then didn't because I just knew you'd be along to say the same about me.

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago
I used to write a lot of short story nonsensical posts but now I don't because BZ deletes them as spam. They take hours and hours to write but if all those hours are for nothing I'd rather just not write.

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago
Do something for Seto's prompt threads. They're fun low pressure little writing exercises, and quick if you aim for the 1-2k mark, and I've been winding up with a surprising number that work as decent stories in their own right.

I've been treating them as exercises in actually finishing things, which is a nice skill to have.

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago
Oh, and we should totally work together! With our powers of never finishing storygames combined, we could summon...a storygame we never finish, probably. :(

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago

You should just stop trying to write stories and instead writhe "Tourist in my fantasy world: The game".

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago
Don't tempt me. Hell, I've considered this. I could make it work, too.

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago

Making a story with several short stories set in the same world might be the easier way to go at this point.

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago
Or I could just BE STRONG and overcome my weakness and continue work on my main CYOA, which I am doing.

Starting With a Setting

9 months ago

Guess you could say you're really...

Setting the stage.