Let’s talk about setting. And in particular, how to pick a setting.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve set your books in made up places vaguely based on somewhere you’ve been or somewhere you live. Write what you know, and all that.
And, if you’re like me, you’ve also probably done some research about what that city looks like and what the people like to do. You’ve double-checked things like work culture, cuisine, and weather.
Maybe, as time goes on, you even throw in some of the language or begin describing things your main character would notice based on whether they are a resident or a visitor.
And maybe, despite the fact that you know they call an elevator a lift, you still write your British characters discussing an elevator once or twice — thank goodness for good friends and editing, am I right?
And after all that, I eventually reached a point where I wanted to write something else. To go somewhere I’d never been. Somewhere that researching made me want to go. You know?
And then, the story affectionately known as Time Travel Princess (more on that later) conceptualized itself and waltzed into my head. And it didn’t want a European or North American setting. It demanded not a fake world, but a real one.
That was my first thought. And my second one. I can’t do that. There’s no way I can do it well! I don’t know enough!
Well, that all might be true, and the further I get into researching the more I realize we as a whole do not know enough for me to be completely accurate to the time period I’m considering, but nonetheless, let me take you on a journey through time, space, and my computer search history to discuss how I decided where to set Time Travel Princess.
In case it’s not obvious, that’s a working title.
So How Does One Select a Setting?
First, let me say that every story and every writer works differently, so this is by no means the only method or an exhaustive list, it’s just what happened to me with this story.
So, for me, the first step was where. I knew it was a time travel story, so the when(s) seemed complicated. And I knew the where was intrinsically tied to how I wanted the time travel to work (it’s a theme thing). So where I set it was a big deal.
The first question I asked myself was ‘what does this story need from its setting?’ It isn’t just a backdrop, it’s a part of the story. So how does it connect to the story?
First question out of the gate and I was already stumped. Excellent start, Eliza.
So I took to the good old research machine that lives in my pocket and did a search for the one thing I knew my story needed: very old very durable structures made out of something natural. The logical outcome: massive stone structures.
Secondary requirement, they have to, at least in part, be somewhere tourists and locals don’t visit often. Because a princess doesn’t engage in illegal time travel activity in the middle of a crowd in broad daylight if she doesn’t want to go the way of King Louis XVI. You know how it is.
So, I turned to the internet and searched for big stone structures that are somewhat isolated and came up with a lot of them in Central and South America.
Cool! Except, that’s still a lot of places.
So then I asked myself, what else is important to the story? I wanted it to be Spanish-speaking because I’m learning enough new things so learning Portuguese seemed like a bit too much for one book.
Then I started researching more. Where is it that my main character, who walked into my head fully ready to fight, would fit in? Where is a place in space (and time) where a girl who looks and acts like her would make sense?
And now the time part came in.
I need a time period and a location with ancient stone structures (of some kind) where a woman could be a ruler. Thankfully, indigenous cultures the world over provide a plethora of such opportunities.
So I narrowed my list to areas that fit the bill and then just enjoyed myself researching those locations. What’s the food and culture like? Who are the people? How much have I read or learned about the area before?
I had a list of three or four countries now and came down to the last question and one I think is extremely important. You ready?
Which one of these places is so interesting to me that I can get lost in research about it for weeks on end and not get bored?
I’m going to be researching, writing, and editing this book for probably the better part of a year, and I might as well enjoy it, I think.
So that’s how I settled the setting for me: Peru. Well, an area of the Andes and the coast that would one day become Peru after many exchanges of power (mostly by war).
Where To Go Now
So, there you have how I settled on my setting. The time and space for a time traveling Princess has been chosen. And now the real work begins: actually doing the work to understand the world she lives in.
And I’ve given myself a real challenge, too, picking a pre-Incan Era as my setting.
I’m hoping to keep you all updated with the most interesting parts of my research as I go, so I’ll be sharing some of the interesting things I learn about current and past Peru.
First up, my favourite topic: food! I’ll be back soon to share some of what I learn. If you have any resources about the area please feel free to share! I’m always happy to hear from people who know more than I do.
Until next time,