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Visiting the Chicago Museum Campus

Another old travel blog from a class in 2016. I would love to back and visit again, especially to see another baseball game!

Writing Craft articles will return soon after I finish cleaning up old class blogs.

When it comes to a city the size of Chicago, there’s no way to see it all in one trip. Trying will make you miserable. Making the best of your visit to Chicago means making choices. Are you a foodie? A musical fanatic? A history buff? No matter your interests, you’re likely to find plenty of activities to keep you busy. For those who love museums and exhibits, Chicago is your paradise, but be prepared to pace yourself.

Chicago is so thick with museums, there’s a whole section of the lakefront designated as “Museum Campus.” Located in the Michigan Avenue/Lakeshore Drive area, the campus is spread out over the beautiful Grant Park. The Art Institute of Chicago dominates the north end of the campus near Millennium Park, while the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium take up most of the campus on the south end near Northerly Island.

Starting at the north end, the Art Institute of Chicago is a massive building with a massive amount of exhibits. It is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the U.S. Founded in 1879, it has nearly 300,000 permanent works of art, covering a wide variety of styles, as well as various special collections. The AIC has everything from the Thorne Miniature Rooms and a furniture-as-art exhibit to exhibits on architecture and contemporary American classics from artists such as Warhol and Lichtenstein. Visiting the AIC can easily be a full day event. However, if you have other plans for the afternoon, it’s easy to pick and choose the exhibits you’re most interested in and save the rest for another time. If you do stay at the museum all day, there are several moderately priced indoor and outdoor café options. Along with food, they also offer a variety of wines, microbrews, and a full bar.

General admission is free for children under 13, but ranges from $14-25 for teens and adults, with out of state visitors paying the highest price. Fast Pass admission is also free for children under 13, but ranges from $29-35 for adults. Or, if you plan to visit several attractions, the CityPASS offers discounted tickets to 5 venues for $82 and $98 (children and adults). The museum is open from 10:30 am to 5 pm, daily, except for Thursday’s when it stays open until 8 pm to accommodate the weekly free admission night for Illinois residents from 5-8 pm.

Heading south across Grant Park, is one of the most popular Museum Campus attractions, Shedd Aquarium. It’s best to plan your visit for the morning in order to avoid waiting in long ticket lines later in the day. The aquarium boasts a wide variety of fun and educational exhibits. During summer months, you can visit the outdoor Stingray Touch pool to pet stingrays, then escape the heat inside while you watch a 4-D movie. Choose between SpongeBob, Coastal Predators, and Prehistoric Sea Monsters to entertain younger visitors.

The amphibian exhibit has a wide variety of exotic frogs, newts, and salamanders, and though labeled as “special,” appears to be a permanent feature and is no more elaborate then the regular exhibits . The “Waters of the World” exhibit is divided into corridors of regional fish exhibits, while “Amazon Rising” is a coral reef habitat where you can watch divers feed and interact with the fish at scheduled times throughout the day. The “Wild Reef” is a 400,000 gallon tank filled with sharks, coral, and tropical fish, but the “Polar Play Zone” is where you can see the recently born baby dolphin and its mother, as well as several beluga whales. The last, largest exhibit is the full-scale “At Home on the Great Lakes” exhibit, which features local environments and fish, while teaching visitors about the ecosystem as they walk through the simulated Great Lakes area.

The aquarium is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5/6 p.m. Ticket prices for the “Total Experience” package range from $40-$55 for adults and $29-$46 for kids. This includes access to the regular exhibits, special amphibian exhibit, 4-D movie, and the Stingray touch pool. There are tickets available to only access the regular exhibits in the $20-25 range. Shedd Aquarium is also part of the CityPASS. If you end up at the aquarium for the whole day, which is definitely possible, they have a sit-down style restaurant as well as a small deli and cafeteria-style dining on the lower level.

A short walk from the aquarium is The Field Museum, one of the largest natural history museums in the world. Of all the Museum Campus attractions, The Field Museum practically requires a full day to enjoy. Whether you visit for half a day or the entire day, arriving early is a must. Long lines begin forming around lunch, so be there at 9 am when they open, and you might be able to see everything by the 5 pm closing time.

Why do you need so much time? The Field Museum houses three huge floors of exhibits, nearly 30 permanent and special exhibits, as well as 3D movies and interactive exhibits for younger children. Whether you want to see mummies, learn about indigenous cultures, study plant entomology, or see the Emperor’s Terracotta Warriors, you’ll have your pick of fascinating exhibits. The best way to approach this large museum is to start with what you are most interested in, rather than beginning at one specific spot and moving through systematically. The exhibits are so large and take so long to get through, you may end up missing out on others you want to see, otherwise.

The Field Museum is open every day of the year, except Christmas. Ticket prices range from $26 to $38 (children/adults) for the All-Access pass, which includes all regular and special exhibits, and one 3D movie. The Discovery pass does not include a movie, and ranges from $22-31. The Field Museum is also part of the CityPASS, and general admission is free to ASTC museum members. If you get hungry during your visit, stop by The Field Bistro for cafe-style lunch items.

Rounding out the attractions on Museum Campus is the Adler Planetarium. While Adler Planetarium is quite a bit smaller than the rest of the attractions in the area, it still offers an assortment of shows and exhibits. “Planet Nine” is their current featured movie, an discussion on the exploration for a new ninth planet, and is offered alongside a handful of classic planetarium “night sky” shows and short films. If you want a completely retro planetarium experience, Adler is home of the oldest planetarium, the Atwood Sphere, built in 1913 by Charles Atwood. The dome is a 15-foot metal sphere that rotates around 8 seated guests once the platform is raised inside. The tiny lightbulbs situated around the inside of the dome show the constellations, which haven’t changed since 1913 when it was built.

The rest of the planetarium exhibits showcase NASA programs and moon landings, astronomy, how the universe formed, and a large collection of modern and ancient telescopes. There are also several interactive exhibits, the “Community Design Lab” and “Planet Explorers”, both of which are geared toward younger children. While the range of exhibits and shows is impressive for a planetarium, this is typically only a half-day or less outing. If you want to finish off a morning visit with lunch, Café Galileo’s is onsite with soups, salads, sandwiches, and drinks.

Adler Planetarium is open from 9:30 am to 6 pm, and is also part of the CityPASS. Non CityPass Holders can purchase general admission (no shows included) for $8 and $12 for children/adults. The Basic Pass includes 1 show and all the regular exhibits for $20-25. If you want to try everything the planetarium has to offer, you’ll need the Anytime All Access pass for $30/35, which includes all regular exhibits, the Atwood Sphere, and unlimited shows. General admission is free for ASTC museum members, with the option to add on shows for a fee.

Chicago’s Museum Campus offers a little bit of everything when it comes to exhibits, entertainment, and education. For those who prefer not to eat at the attractions, head into Grant Park for a variety of food vendors, or back to one of many the Michigan Avenue restaurants. When you need a break from touring, stop and enjoy Buckingham Fountain in the heart of Grant Park, or the 12th Street Beach on Northerly Island. Wherever you choose to start or end your visit to Museum Campus, take your time and enjoy everything it has to offer.

Posted in writing

Same Place, Different Me

This is a post I wrote in 2016 for a travel writing class. I’m finally getting around to cleaning up of blogs for classes and wanted to repost this one here. It’s a look back at what was going on in my head a year after leaving the religion I grew up in. My early writing style was influenced by my upbringing and it has changed a lot in the last six years.

I’ll be back to posting writing craft article in a few weeks!

I have been to Salt Lake City maybe two dozen times in my life. Growing up Mormon, it’s a place that is always in the back of your mind, where the early saints migrated to after being evicted from multiple states for various reasons. It’s the place members of the church believe God chose for them to seek refuge and build up Zion. It is the epicenter of everything that is Mormonism. Visiting Salt Lake as a child, teen, and even as recently as a few years ago with my own family, always held familiarity mixed with a somewhat unexplainable sense of excitement. It was God’s chosen place, after all.

Previous trips to Salt Lake were filled with walking Temple Square and taking pictures of the 223 foot tall granite temple, which took 40 years to build and is regarded as a testament of God’s power and authority. Visiting meant seeing exhibits at the Church Museum, watching the pin drop presentation in the acoustically impressive Tabernacle building, and touring the massive Conference Center, which cost “a lot of money” to build, as the tour guide put it.

Mixed in with religious sites would be trips to the mid-sized amusement park, Lagoon, or the so-so water park, Seven Peaks, which always inspires one of our kids to say that the names of these two places really should be switched in order to make more sense. I am not a shopper by any means, so we tend to avoid malls, even the new, expensive, controversial City Creek Center located just off Temple Square, and ultimately funded by donations from church members, which is what makes it a hot topic for many people.

Having visited so many times, and grown up in a culture regarded by outsiders as strange—at the very least—making another stop in Salt Lake City while my husband attended a training seminar for work should have been just more of the same. And I suppose it was, because the city hasn’t changed much since our last visit. It was the experience that changed, the perspective. My perspective.

Just over a year ago, my husband and I, along with our two children, left Mormonism. For someone who grew up believing they were part of God’s chosen people and would one day be exalted if they stayed faithful enough long enough, leaving Mormonism isn’t just about giving up a religious creed and gaining more free time on the weekend. It’s leaving behind a culture, a world view, a guide on how to live your life and raise your children. Sometimes, it also often means losing community, friends, and possibly even family.

Being back in Salt Lake, as an ex-Mormon, is what changed the experience. Suddenly, we weren’t part of the culture we grew up in anymore. We were outsiders, experiencing a city in a new way. Scheduled to be there for a week, I was faced with entertaining the kids while my husband was in class, without all the usual stops at church-related sights. I knew there had to be more to do in a city that size, but I had never bothered to look beyond the usual. Now, it was either a week of boredom, or rediscover a city I thought I knew.

The simplest things became new experiences. Dining choices multiplied, because we probably wouldn’t have opting for somewhere like Squatters Pub Brewery on previous trips, since we didn’t drink and had pretty strong views against alcohol in general. When friends my husband worked with, who were also in town for the training, texted to see if we wanted to go out for drinks one evening, a year ago that would have ended in an awkward refusal that, to us at least, would have felt judgmental no matter how we tried to phrase it. This trip, I was surprised to realize Salt Lake has a thriving night scene, with everything from classy whiskey bars and microbreweries, to dive bars and pool halls.

And the people who frequented these places? They were perfectly normal. Not the sad, lost people who had been demonized in church lessons on temperance during youth meetings. We met a lady from Ireland who had raised her son on her own, sent him off to college in Europe so he could experience part of where his family came from, was successful in her career, and proud of her life so far. She held her own beliefs about religion, found Mormons interesting to live amongst, but respected everyone’s right to live their lives how they saw fit—something Mormons have a very difficult time doing. Non-members are people to be pitied, as a Mormon, because they don’t have the truth. Yet, most of our closest friends have always been non-members, and as we’ve expanded our circle, there’s no pity, no judgement, no press to show them the right way. We’re still figuring out what that is ourselves, like most people. Whether or not you drink alcohol on occasion has very little to do with your moral superiority.

For as much as modern Mormons are known for never drinking alcohol, there’s a reason Salt Lake has Whiskey Street and a plethora of downtown bars named with creative Mormon puns. Early church leaders drank, smoked, and had beards—which are no longer allowed to be worn by men in church leadership positions, for vague, absurd reasons having something to do with an intense dislike of hippies in the seventies. Much of what Mormonism is today is a far cry from what it was in its early days, and somehow Salt Lake City serves as an unwitting portrait of both the old religion and its modernized cousin.

As trivial as new places to eat might seem to some, wardrobe might seem equally minor, yet it was another factor in seeing a new side of the city. People not familiar with the Salt Lake area think it’s brimming with Mormons. In actuality, only about forty percent of the city’s population are active members of the church. I knew this before, a fact kept somewhere in the back of my mind. Yet, when sorting through the suitcase looking for something to wear, I found myself worrying about sticking out.

It was hot during our trip, right around the same time Phoenix was suffering through one-hundred-twenty degree days. We also planned to walk most places, because finding parking can be a pain and I never carry change for meters. When we left Mormonism, we stopped wearing the traditional undergarments that didn’t allow for sleeveless tops or anything that hit above the knee. Over the hot summer I had been spending as much time as possible in summer dresses, tank tops, and shorts. That was fine at home or on vacation in Chicago, but in Salt Lake? In the mecca of Mormonism? I felt self-conscious walking out of the hotel in any of these types of clothes, but it was really, really hot.

My insecurity all but vanished after a few blocks of walking toward the local small, but fun, planetarium. No one was staring. Not a single person gave me a look of disappointment or disgust. No one even cared. In fact, most every woman I saw had on shorts or an above-the-knee skirt, sleeveless blouses or spaghetti straps. It was hot, and the majority of people living in Salt Lake have nothing to do with the religion, its requirements, or its constraints. They’re simply trying not to sweat through their shirts on their way to the street car station, or walking a kitten on a leash (I wish I had gotten a picture of that, but it seemed rude), or enjoying lunch with friends in an air conditioned restaurant that may or may not serve wine alongside their sandwiches. The liquor laws in Utah are very weird, so who knows.

The fact was, nearly every person I passed was oblivious to the fact that I was wearing a blue plaid skirt that hit above my knees and was paired with a black tank top. As a youth in the Mormon Church, you’re constantly reminded that the world is watching you, looking to you as an example, a candle on the hill meant to light the way for others. That kind of language makes you feel special, encourages you to be obedient, lead your wayward friends toward true happiness. Stepping outside that culture and experiencing the rest of the world has shown me over and over that Mormonism is the sole focus of only the people living inside that bubble. The rest of the world is content to blaze their own path toward happiness and success.

Finding our own path, in regards to staying entertained that week, led us to all kinds of places I’d never been to before, like The Leonardo museum.

My kids’ interest in children’s museums has been steadily falling over the past few years, but The Leo was different. Everything was interactive, from molding Claymation people to record on little movie screens, to using your body to make prismatic rainbow reflections. What stuck out to me the most, however, was a temporary exhibit on indigent people. Told through portraits and written stories, visitors could see into the lives of people who had ended up in a situation of homelessness for various reasons. The point of the exhibit was to break down stereotypes, and it had me and my kids fascinated.

I’m of big fan of podcasts like “This American Life” and “Beautiful/Anonymous” because I love hearing people’s stories, epic or everyday. This exhibit struck me, not only because of this, but because on our walk to the museum I kept noticing signs around downtown asking people not to give money to the homeless. Salt Lake does have a high population of indigents (around 14,000 in 2015), and while I understand the reasons behind asking people to give money to local shelters and services rather than directly to the people, I also saw this city in a new light than I ever had before.

The Mormon Church receives millions of dollars in donations from members every year, yet only a small percentage is actually put toward philanthropic ventures. Most goes toward payroll, church schools, and real estate. As we walked back from The Leo with a statistic on my mind that most homeless people only need shelter and help for about two weeks in order to get back on their feet, I saw those same signs and considered how my own viewpoints had changed.

A year before, I would have agreed with commonly held ideals of my former faith that most of these people had landed themselves in these situations through their own choices, and a handout would only enable them. Give money to the church instead, and they would take care of the rest, led by God’s influence. I grew up with hardline concepts of choice and accountability, of a person needing to succeed on their own and not make excuses for failure. Salvation comes through acts, not grace. Leaving Mormonism blurred the lines between what I once thought was black and white.

The stories from the museum kept going through my mind as we walked back to the hotel, one in particular of a couple who had been addicted to drugs and living on the streets for years, yet made the difficult decision to turn their lives around. An elderly woman the man had once known agreed to take them both in while they tried to get clean, and they spent years working their way up from odd jobs for neighbors to regular landscaping work, amending wrongs they had committed the best they could along the way, even when it meant jail time.

I kept thinking about that story, wondering how it might have been different if the elderly woman had turned them away and told them to ask a shelter for a bed instead. Yes, shelters and services meant to help indigent are good places to contribute time and money, but sometimes a single individual can be the best force for change if we’re willing to see the world and the people in it a little more clearly, a little less blurred by our own limited experiences and what we think we know to be right.

Culture is a strange thing. How you see it and experience it has so much to do with what side of the line you stand on: insider or outsider. A trip I’ve made dozens of times in my life provided me with a view of both what it was like to experience a culture I was well acquainted with from a completely new viewpoint as an outsider, as well as see the world outside Mormonism from a clearer perspective. The culture you grow up with is always a part of you.  Stepping outside of it, experiencing new cultures, new places, new viewpoints, it doesn’t erase what you started with, but rather adds to it, allowing you to see, know, and understand more than you could have before.

Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Setting: Show vs. Tell

Show, Don’t Tell is a common bit of advice in creative writing. It is especially important when describing setting.

Explaining Description

Young or new writers often try to tell the reader too much about the environment a character inhabits. This often happened by giving one concrete detail of the setting then explaining what this detail means, such as, “The sofa had a tear in the arm rest, which had been there for years because Agnes’s mother couldn’t afford to buy and new one and never had enough time to attempt fixing it with her meager sewing skills.”

This might sound fine at first glance, but there are better ways to share this information with the reader without being so wordy and direct. Consider what this piece of description is telling the reader:

  • The family isn’t wealthy
  • The mother works a lot
  • The mother lacks traditional “homemaking” skills
  • The house/contents are worn and in need of repair

To make description effective and well-integrated into the story, avoiding big blocks of “telling,” its important to consider how the character experiences the information you’re trying to communicate to the reader.

Here are some examples of how this same information can be shown and integrated into the bigger story.

Agnes collapsed onto the couch. She blindly reached across the arm of the couch in search of the remote and her fingertip caught on the ever-present hole in the fabric. She frowned at is, just as her mother always did. Agnes wished she her after school job was enough to help her mother buy a new couch, but even with her measly paychecks, they were still barely covering the bills. The one time Agnes had suggested she quit school to work more still made her shiver when she thought about it. Her mother’s slap had been completely unexpected. She’d yelled that she wasn’t working double shifts just so Agnes could end up just like her. A strange mixture of hurt and shame filled Agnes as the memory swept over her. She stared at the hole. Maybe she could fix it. She scoffed and shook her head. With what sewing skills? Her mom had been too busy working as a kid to learn something like that.

In this paragraph, the same information is given to the reader, but through Agnes’s thoughts and experiences. It delivered over time, at a more natural pace, as well.

Overindulging in Description

Description should not be overindulgent. It should be relevant to the story and situation. Long passages of elaborate description may have been the style in past eras, but in today’s world readers have shortened attention spans because there are so many pressures on time. Building a detailed setting with endless description will bore most readers and may even cause them to abandon the book. Trim down description of setting to what is relevant to the scene and to what provides useful information to the reader.

Description should orient the reader in the setting, letting them explore the setting with your character in a way that reveals insights about the character, his or her life, what is important to a character, etc.

Consider how to reveal information about a family’s dynamics through setting by having a teen look through the kitchen cupboards. If the sole box of cereal in the cupboard is on the verge of going stale that reader will begin to question how fit the parents are, whether there is enough money to meet basic needs, or if there are issues of abuse or neglect taking place.

You might present the opposite information to the reader by describing cupboards filled with healthy foods and ingredients and the character’s favorite items. This will suggest at least comfortable wealth, attentive and educated guardians, a caring environment, etc. Most likely, your character will have a home life that is somewhere in between these two extremes, but it only takes a few carefully crafted sentences to show that to the reader.

Use setting to help tell readers a story rather than directly telling the readers where the story is happening as information separate from the story.

Posted in books, creative writing, paranormal, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Setting: Creating Unique Settings

Writers can use worldbuilding techniques to create unique settings.

Start With the Basics

There are several important aspects of setting to consider:

  • Layout and geography
  • What lies beyond the immediate setting
  • Politics, laws, and governing system
  • Culture and traditions
  • Weather
  • Local plants and animals
  • Jobs, economy, imports/exports
  • History, enemies, and allies
  • Folklore, urban legends, etc.
  • Details only locals would know
  • The hero’s feelings and opinions about the place

All of these elements will affect a character’s views, way of thinking, actions, choices, and lifestyle and may affect the path of a storyline.

One you have at least one item for each element in the list, consider how each one might affect the character or story, and whether that effect is beneficial and moves the story forward or if it simply adds another layer of richness.

These elements can be integrated into a setting as minor or major elements, depending on what the scene needs. Folklore may be relevant in a non-realistic storyline out a child who’s gone missing under mysterious circumstances, but only mentioned in passing in a realistic setting where adults reminisce about childhood fears. A mixture of major and minor elements give a setting depth and uniqueness.

Develop the Details

Details make the difference in worldbuilding, whether high fantasy or the corner coffee shop. The level of detail often depends on the genre. Unless the color of every mug in a coffee shop is relevant to the story, leave it out.

Developing an intricate system of magical spell-creation ot introducing a non-realistic world readers are not familiar with requires a higher level of detail so the reader can understand the process or place.

Details MUST be relevant, no matter the genre.

Let’s use food as an example to see how something relatively simple and easy to overlook can be an important detail in providing information about a character through setting.

What characters eat can indicate location, such as putting coleslaw on pulled pork sandwiches, which is common in the south but a strange combination in the southwest United States.). Food can reveal income, such as a character having a cupboard full of Ramen noodle packets or a collection of delicious wines in a built in wine fridge. Food could also inform the reader about personality quirks. If all the food in a character’s fridge is yellow, the reader will start considering why.

Irrelevant details have the potential of confusing readers because they cause them to look for hints or twists where there aren’t any. These can later appear to be plot holes or sloppy writing. Remember the advice that if you mention a gun in scene 1, it better be fired by someone by the end of the story!

Add Layers

Once you have the foundation of your setting and world and are starting to add details, do so in logical layers.

Consider a real-world worldbuilding example: Choose the city relevant to the story line>choose a professional that makes sense for the location and character>choose a neighborhood with access to amenities that will help progress the story>choose frequently visited locations that provide opportunities for conversations, action, or conflict>develop hobbies that allow for character growth>etc.

Now consider a paranormal worldbuilding example: Choose a mythology base>tweak the base to suit major plot points>develop main powers/beasts that provide conflict between two or more groups>develop rules for powers/beasts that keep winning from being too easy>develop goals for each opposing group>develop individual goals that clash with others’ goals of the group’s goals>develop individual power/beast uniqueness that needs to develop> etc.

In every genre there is a logical progression to worldbuilding and every element added should impact the characters and story in a meaningful way

Posted in paranormal, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Setting: Worldbuilding

Fictional settings, whether modern-real world, historical, sci-fi, fantasy, or paranormal, require some level of worldbuilding.

Setting should transport the reader to a particular location and not feel like it could have taken place anywhere. To accomplish that, some level of worldbuilding is needed in every story.

Worldbuilding is creating a fictional world that still feels realistic.

Details make all the difference in worldbuilding and keep a setting from feeling generic. Worldbuilding should highlight unique and quirky elements and integrate them into the storyline and character profiles.

The amount of worldbuilding needed depends on genre.

Realistic, Modern Settings

While these types of settings typically require the least amount of large-scale worldbuilding because readers are familiar with the rules and concepts of the world, it is still needed on a small scale.

Consider the mini-worlds within a setting, such as the culture of an apartment building or workplace or neighborhood. Each of these settings will have specific rules that guide interactions, a history that has helped develop its culture, an atmosphere linked to the people and culture, and a character developed by its physical components.

Each worldbuilding element will then interact with the characters and story, such as the tone of an office making a character feel either welcome and inspired or fearful and anxious. Address pertinent elements in description and exposition, or use dialogue between the characters to share thoughts and opinions on the mini-world and how it affects the characters.

Don’t expect characters to automatically understand a setting just because it exists in the modern world. James Pietragallo, co-host of Small Town Murder, mentioned on a podcast episode that he couldn’t get into the TV series “The Office” because he had never worked in an office and didn’t get the culture.

Historical Settings

Historical settings require a great deal of research, because historical fiction readers will catch mistakes and be put off by them. Research should be conducted on two levels, at least: era-accuracy to get historical facts correct and daily-living accuracy get the small details right.

The most obvious elements to be researched for a historical setting are elements, such as clothing, socio-political events and impacts, transportation, and technology. Many of these elements are affected by less-obvious research areas, such as available social services, laws regarding various aspects of life, how the justice system functioned, healthcare and knowledge of diseases and treatments, and similar topics.

Before developing a story line, consider how the time period will effect the events your characters will engage in. Female business owners were uncommon prior to the 1900s in many countries, and even then the types of businesses women would own were often limited. If a female business owner married, business ownership could transfer to her husband in many situations, which could make a woman think twice about marrying. Make sure your storyline will actually work in the time period you’ve chosen by doing thorough research.

Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Paranormal Settings

Non-realistic settings offer the greatest opportunities for worldbuilding, demanding creativity and organization. Whether working with futuristic machines, dark creatures, or mythological beings, it is important to develop an organized and functional world for them to inhabit.

Research is an important worldbuilding technique for these types of worlds, but it is only one component. Depending on how closely you plant o follow establish science, mythology, or folklore about worlds and beings in a setting, research needed may vary. Even if you plan to vary from what is already established, it’s a good idea to start at common ground so readers have some familiarity before introducing new or different elements.

The second component of non-realistic worldbuilding involves development or rules and structures. Even though these types of stories do not exist in the “real world,” they still need to be realistic enough that the reader can understand how it operates and by what rules characters make decisions or interact. Rules should provide organization to the world and allow readers to make judgments and have expectations about character actions and choices or what may or way now happen. Once rules and structures are developed, they should be followed in order to avoid confusing or frustrating the reader.

Along with creating a non-realistic world that makes sense to the reader, the same types of worldbuilding techniques needed in realistic settings should also be applied in order to develop the necessary mini-worlds of community or neighborhood.

Posted in characters, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Setting: Integrating History

The history of a setting can easily be overlooked during development. Not thinking about it can create lost opportunities to enrich a story.

The history of an area influences nearly all aspects of a society. Not only can the land itself change, it can be changed by people or other forces.

Consider major events like natural or man-made disasters, wars, significant political events, major religious movements, large-scale societal changes, and the physical history of a place.

Much of the landscape of Europe was changed during the two World Wars, with some town ceasing to exist or being rebuilt after clearing the rubble. A centuries-old town suddenly made new could drastically change how people interact with the setting and with each other. It can change the tone of the area and create sentiments of hostility or hope.

Parts of New Orleans and surrounding areas still have ruined or abandoned buildings destroyed by the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, and how that natural disaster was dealt with changed many lives and attitudes.

Areas that have experienced unrest on turmoil may have physical markers of the struggle, events to commemorate it, or an air of secrecy if it is a history the residents are not proud of. July 24th isn’t a special day in most of the United States, but Utah hosts Pioneer Day celebrations that day to commemorate Mormon pioneers arriving in the valley. There are also many events that spoof or mock Pioneer Day, such as “Pies and Beers Day” or “Pies and Queers Day,” in the area, which highlight the tension present in the state.

Major historical events impact generations and can shape or alter society in a specific area.

Historical fiction requires a great deal of research, of course, but modern fiction should also make use of important historical influences. All aspects of life are influenced by the time period a person lives in. If a story has multi-generational characters, the history of a place can be a great way to show the effects of history on a place and its residents. Old biases and prejudices may be perplexing to younger who didn’t experience race riots or have only experienced acceptance of LGBTQ persons.

Consider how each historical element affects daily life, worldview and self perception, opportunities and choices of your characters. Work to weave these influences into the overall storyline and into the character’s backstory, current self, and motivations and goals for the future.

Posted in characters, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Setting: Climate and Geography

Climate and geography can effect a character’s life in a variety of ways, and making use of those impacts can help you create a fuller environment.

Climate

The most basic ways that climate affects a character is adjusting everyday details like choices in clothing, what activities are available, possibility for adverse conditions, feelings toward weather or impacts on mood, and ability to spend time outdoors.

On another level, climate can effect a character’s worldview. For example, harsh climates often create harsh existences. Characters must struggle against the elements for survival as well as regular human problems. This can create physically and emotionally tough characters. Easier, softer environments may mean a character is less prepared for harsh situations or has a more optimistic or positive outlook.

Climate also affects the hobbies and skills a character might develop, as well as what opportunities or knowledge he or she might have. You won’t find many year-round ice rinks in the hot, Southwestern United States, but in colder northern states many children grow up playing hockey rather than soccer.

Being vague about climate is not a substitute for research and planning, so don’t just ignore it. Not only will you miss out on opportunities to create a character with more depth, your scenes may feel a little lackluster.

Geography

What part of the world a character inhabits affects a wide variety of setting aspects.

The physical location will determine what types of plants and animals live in the area. It’s hard to have an alligator as a means of disposing of a body in Idaho, but an all-too-real possibilities in coastal Louisiana.

Geography al effects characters’ access to other areas, such as living in an isolated cabin in winter where the plows don’t maintain the roads, or different types of ecosystems. Physical location will also determine what dialect a character uses, though you don’t want to overdo it with regionalisms or colloquialisms in dialogue.

It’s also important to consider whether a geographical location has pronounced or “drug-in” views on politics or religion, a unique culture, or social structures that are not mainstream, and whether or not a character will fall in line with those aspects of their location or not. Researching these setting aspects also offers up great opportunities to make the setting more unique and memorable.

Manmade geography should also be considered when developing a setting’s geographical location. Dams, buildings, and monuments not only change the natural geography but can influence how man’s influence on nature is perceived.

Dig into the climate and geographical location of your setting to see what elements can be used to enhance the setting, characters, and story.

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Setting: Mood, Tone, and Atmosphere

Setting can help determine the mood and atmosphere of a story. These should vary throughout a story when the setting and other factors change.

First, a few definitions, because it’s easy to confuse these elements”

  • Mood is the emotional feel of a scene, created through specific language meant to put the reader is a specific emotional state.
  • Tone is the way the author expresses their attitude toward the setting and scene through their use of narrative devices such as description and vocabulary.
  • Atmosphere is the combination of mood and tone, and is created through the author’s specific attitude or approach to writing a scene.

Carefully consider the words you use, the tempo of your sentences, and the point of view and perspective used when writing a scene.

Description

How a setting is described can change the way both readers and characters perceive the scene and how characters interact with the setting. If the scene has a fearful element, characters will move through it more slowly and the reader will read more slowly so as not to miss anything.

Description also helps to develop the tone of a scene. Use words that match the atmosphere you are trying to create. For example, a bird who chirps creates a different feel than one who squawks or caws. Textures, smells, and lighting can also be used to create a specific mood and tone. Use all five senses to fully develop a scenes description.

<a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="http://&lt;!– wp:paragraph –> <p>Tone words<a href="https://examples.yourdictionary.com/tone-examples.html&quot; target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">https://examples.yourdictionary.com/tone-examples.html</a&gt; include words like cheerful, nostalgic, melancholic, arrogant, etc. </p> Tone words include words like cheerful, nostalgic, melancholic, arrogant, etc. Mood words should go beyond expressing feelings involved in the scene and describe movements, actions, decor and more.

Description of the covered bridge in Sleepy Hollow has a much different feel than description of the Love Lock Bridge in Paris. A well-worn blanket suggests it has been used and cherished while a threadbare blanket suggests lack of funds and support.

Tempo

Match sentence tempo to what is happening in a scene. Use a quick tempo for an intense or frightening scene by writing shorter sentences, using high-impact words (single descriptors rather than multi-word descriptors), limit extraneous details not absolutely needed, stay focused on the action, and avoid long sections of dialogue.

For slower tempo scenes, focus on using longer and more fluid sentences for calm or contemplative moments. Description and internal dialogue can help slow the pace when you want the reader or character to pay particular attention to something, or to give the reader time to process the scene more fully.

Certain types of action can change the tempo of a scene as well. Fast or frantic movements create anxiety or a feeling of need. This may include things like searching for something, running, shifting, or pacing. If, however, a character in engaged in slower movements, a calmer feeling will pervade the scene. Low-tempo actions may include reading, lying on a couch, strolling, folding laundry, or cooking.

Point of View

Consider which point of view will create the right feel for a scene. First person is very immediate and can cause emotions to feel more intense and immediate. First person also puts the reader in the middle of the action or emotion as it is happening. For romances or personal stories, this ca help the reader feel they are experiencing the story with the characters and create a stronger atmosphere.

However, first person may be too much for some topics or events, such as those which may have triggering effects for some readers. First person can also be too limiting if the reader needs to know details happening around the character but not necessary within his view or awareness.

Third person provides distance and an wider view of events, but also has it’s pluses and minuses. Third person typically allows for more thorough description because the character does not necessarily have to be physically taking note of scene details in order to share them with the reader. It can also provide a buffer between the story and reader when there are difficult subjects or events. If the emotions or actions of a scene need to be close to the reader in order to set the right atmosphere, third person may provide too much distance and weaken the mood and tone.

There will, of course, be different types of scenes throughout a story that might have conflicting point of view needs. Consider the story as a whole and determine which will work best for the majority of scenes and be flexible with other scenes.

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Setting: Incorporating Time

Time is an important factor in the development of setting because it is linked to so many other aspects of a setting.

Time and Technology

These two elements are intricately connected because technology changes with time and getting the pairing wrong creates anachronisms the reader will most likely notice. Technology can also impact the events of a story, such as being able (or not able) to contact someone easily by cell phone or the ability to find needed information.

When writing in your own time period, or one you have lived through, it’s easier to get the technology right. Any time you venture from familiarity, take the time to thoroughly research what was available in a time period. Not only will this create a more realistic setting, readers can develop respect for your hard work and you will increase your credibility when readers learn new things about a time period.

When writing crime, technology is critical to get right in order to be believable. Don’t just consider when a technology was developed, but also when it became widely available in cities and rural areas and what public perception of specific technology was during that time. DNA profiling became available in the early 80s, but required a much larger blood sample than is needed today and was more limited on what it could determine. It was could also be more hindrance than help in trials because so few members of the public understood what it was and either didn’t understand it or distrusted it even into the 90s.

Time and Society

Time also factors into self-perception and social rules. Self perception is all too often closely linked to how others treat a person. Throughout time, minority groups have been treated with varying degrees of respect and equality. Consider how the experience of a 1950s black woman applying for a professional job would be very different from a white teenage boy in modern times. The different way they experience life impacts how they see themselves and what trials and they will face.

Multiple studies have been conducted on how young Black and white children perceive beauty, goodness, and intelligence based on race. The social environments they grow up in significantly effect how they see themselves and others even today. Create realistic social environments by studying how a particular time period effected those living in it, especially in particularly volatile areas.

Time and Profession

Time period also limits opportunities for certain races, genders, religions, and other groups. Be sure to research historical rules, laws, prejudices, and customs of a time period. Elizabeth Blackwell was a British physician and the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States in 1849, however it wasn’t until the 1972 Title IX of the Higher Education Act prohibited federally funded schools from discriminating based on gender.

Time should also be considered in sports, education, and careers. It’s important to know how long it takes to become a lawyer, professional athlete, business mogul, PhD, etc. and plan your timeline and the ages of your characters accordingly. Steer away from “genius” or “prodigy” characters unless absolutely critical to the story. This overused trope doesn’t hold the appeal it once did. If you must have a 22-year-old billionaire, it’s much more realistic that he or she inherited that wealth rather than built it on his or her own.

When writing in any time period other than the present, don’t forget to consider other aspects like fashion trends, politics, generally available knowledge, and other elements that are dependent on time as well.

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Setting: Place and Location

Place and location impact a story by how characters interact with the setting and how it shapes their worldview.

Go deeper than just city, suburbs, or country when locating your character within a fictional world. Consider both place and location. Place is a broader term that defines a space or an area, while location is a more specific point where a specific town/neighborhood/building/etc. is physically located. So a place might be the mountains, while Emerald Lake is near Estes Park, Colorado is a location.

Place can also describe how a person lives within a space, such as an empty desert or isolated cabin. Defining place in this way can help you establish how it will impact the story and character. For example, living in seclusion limits interactions with people but may shift a worldview to one more peaceful and patient. Living in a bustling city may give a character energy and enthusiasm to achieve a dream.

Location can be used to create physical limitations and/or opportunities for a character as well. A character in search of an opportunity to share his art with others will have more opportunities in a city or town that values art and has a strong artist community. A character in search of a job outside of agriculture might face a great deal of frustration and disappointment in a small town that mainly relies on ranching for financial support if she is stuck there and can’t explore other locations.

Place and location should affect the story and characters differently depending on the situation. Consider how the same location of a small town with a close-knit community who has strong conservative values would have on a character coming home. A character coming home after a stint in prison for drug possession will be received and affected quite differently than a character who returns to announce an engagement and acceptance to law school.

Location also has an affect on a character’s thoughts and behaviors. Walking into a twentieth-floor office for a first day on the job may inspire anxiety and cause him to make mistakes while going out with friends for a fun night might inspire confidence and excitement.

Interactions with other people change in different types of location and choices may even be very different. Hanging out with people a character has known all his life makes him feel comfortable and let his guard down, maybe to the point of revealing something he wouldn’t or shouldn’t tell anyone else. Meeting someone on vacation could lead a person to inflate their status or lie about certain aspects of their self or life because they believe they will never see the person again.

Place and location almost act as another character in the way they can influence both characters and story. Carefully consider both to use them to their full potential.