Four Dimensional Settings

What’s in a setting?

There’s period.

There’s duration.

There’s location.

and there is the one that is often forgotten and/or ignored…

Levels of Conflict.

In this episode of The Story Grid Podcast Tim and I discuss Setting in detail.  As you’ll recall, a couple of weeks ago we got stuck with Tim’s middle build.

We were working scene to scene and we fell in a hole that we could have continued to dig deeper…fitzing around with scenes that just didn’t feel right because they didn’t have a progressive narrative momentum to them.  Instead of doing that…and driving ourselves crazy…as last week’s post suggested, we decided to move macro and put our micro work on the back burner.

And when we started to do that (thinking big picture instead of scene to scene), we realized that Tim’s “world,” his setting, was not fully delineated.  So after Tim gave me his first crack at figuring it all out, which only nibbled at the edges of the four dimensions of setting…I decided to take yet a further step backwards and clearly lay out for him exactly what elements he had to figure out to fully define his setting.

To listen click the play button below or read the transcript that follows:

[0:00:00.5] TG: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid Podcast. This is the show dedicated to helping you become a better writer. I’m your host, Tim Grahl and I am a struggling writer trying to figure out how to tell a story that works. Joining me shortly is Shawn Coyne. He is the creator of the Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid, and an editor with over 25 plus years’ experience.

 

Last episode we dove into how to lay out the world of your novel and I started working on that. In this episode we go even deeper into what is the setting of your novel, and Shawn talks about the four important questions that you have to have and you have to know in order to create the right setting for your novel. So, we’re going to go over those, I think you’re going to really enjoy it so let’s dive in and get started.

 

[EPISODE]

 

[0:00:49.5] TG: So, Shawn, last week we went over three of my scenes and we realized the big thing hanging me up right now is not having a fuller understanding of the world that the story is in and realizing I hadn’t put enough thought into this and it was really kind of hamstringing my storytelling because I didn’t really understand the world that I was trying to tell a story in.

 

So, I went and sat down for a couple of hours and tried to work this out and I made this kind of giant list of stuff that I sent you and I’ll put in the show notes as well. I’m just curios if I was like on the right track and when you start talking about the world of the story. What are the actual pieces that I need to put together and figure out to make sure I have a nice robust world.

 

[0:01:42.5] SC: Yes, I agree with everything that you just said. I think the problem that we’re having now with the middle build is understanding exactly the structure of the world that we’re talking about. What do I mean when I say “the world”? What I mean is the setting. This is a term that everybody’s heard of a million times, but nobody ever really digs really deeply into exactly what the setting of your story means. I think before I even get near the material that you wrote, which is all very instructive. I think it’s important to just sort of take two giant steps back and say, “All right, what are second settings again and what’s this all about?”

 

I’ll give a little mini lecture here about setting. There are four dimensions in a setting and again when I say setting, it’s also the world you’re creating the universe especially when you‘re writing a fantasy story, meaning an alternative reality, this book is and this story is, you really need to clarify and be very strict with yourself when it comes to your setting. Again, there are four dimensions of setting. The first dimension is called the period, this is where the story’s place is in time and what I mean by that, is this a contemporary story meaning is this running a long time the exact same time continuum that we are living our lives right now?

 

Is it historical? Meaning is it set back in the 17 or 1800’s and is there a historical sensibility about it or is it the future? Is it some hypothetical future where things are different than they are today but grounded in the essential changes of life from the beginning of time on earth? There you have it, that’s the period, that’s the first dimension you have to understand about your setting and from your story, we know, we’re talking about the future.

 

[0:03:48.8] TG: Right.

 

[0:03:48.7] SC: Okay, that one’s done, now the second thing that you have to understand about — easy, we’re just going to knock this right off. The second thing you need to understand and this one, it’s very obvious but you would be shocked at how many people write things without ever considering this. This is the second dimension of setting is the duration. This is the story’s length and time. How long are we talking about is this character undergoing this changes in real time? So, for example, I’m doing this work on Pride and Prejudice right now and what’s amazing about that novel, it’s written and it was published in 1813 is that Jane Austin was so very meticulous about pinpointing and being very clear to the reader that his is happening in a very specific duration of time.

 

Pride and prejudice begins in the fall and it ends about 15 months later. So, the following Christmas is when it ends. As a reader, she’s never starting her chapters with, “And today ways May 13th in our 15th month journey,” instead she drops little hints. Fort night later, if you’re a crazy editor like me, if you go through the book, it’s pretty simple to calculate exactly what scene is happening at what duration in the time period of the entire story. So, duration is a really important thing to really keep in mind and that’s why it’s on my story grid spreadsheet.

 

It’s one of those things, those continuity things that we often don’t really dive into until the very end of our first draft but in this — in your case and especially in the fantasy genre arena, you really want to be able to figure out, okay, Jessie is being brought into a program. How long is that program going to last? How long was she with the numbered in her small town et cetera. This will help you structure your entire story. If you know, this is going to end on Christmas day and it’s going to be begin in September of the previous year, then when Jane Austin plotted out her novel, she knew, “Okay, I need this certain amount of time to cover this certain amount — what’s a reasonable amount of time for a romantic relationship to go from first introduction to commitment? She wisely came up with this very reasonable amount of time. It was a time, a duration of time that was consistent with the reality of her time. Now, remember that she was writing a contemporary story when she wrote pride and prejudice. She wasn’t writing historical. We look at it as historical today but she was looking at it through the contemporary lens of her vision.

 

In her mind, a man and a woman, they could meet and they could get married in a reasonable amount of time for that process would be about a year. That’s why she structured her story in that way. Duration is a very important thing for you Tim to think about. How long is this first novel, I know you’re thinking about doing a trilogy. Think about what’s the end game, is this a four year process of Jessie moving from a 12 year old prodigy to high commander in a certain or whatever it is. That’s something to think about in your world. That’s the second dimension of setting which is duration.

 

The third dimension of setting is location. Where is the story taking place in space? What is the physical dimension, what’s the geography of the story, what town are we talking about? What street? Are there buildings on the street? If there are buildings on the street, what rooms are these scenes taking place inside of this buildings? What part of earth are we on? This is an important, really super important thing that figure out too and one of the recommendations I would make for somebody who wants to write a fantasy story which is set in a fantastical world is to use the wizard of oz.

 

The wizard of Oz is very specific, we know Dorothy is in Kansas right? She’s in Kansas in the United States in the middle of the country, at the very beginning of the story, we’re told that very early on so we are locked in, we know where we are. When that tornado comes and she lands in Oz, guess what happens? One of the first people she meets is the good witch of the north, I’m not sure. Yeah, she meets a good witch who starts to explain to her, well you’re in Oz and here’s the way it works, there are witches, there’s wicked witches and look over there, you just murdered one and her shoes are now yours.

 

All the rules of the world of Oz are explained to Dorothy very soon after she lands from Kansas. El Frank Baum who wrote it, he knew, I have to ground my reader in very specific geography so for your story and we didn’t do this early on in the beginning hook and the reason why we didn’t do this was it was important for you to get a sense of scene work. Before you started diving into all of this sort of very meticulous thought processes and analytical thinking that I know you Tim as a person would just — you would go to the ends of the earth going to the analytical part instead of focusing on the scene work.

 

I don’t want you to think that jeez Shawn, it didn’t tell me a think setting and now I’ve got 13 scenes and I have to reconstruct my setting. You do have a setting, you just need to hone in on it and really make it specific. The third thing of setting is location and location is, it’s a lot of fun to think of location, again in Pride and Prejudice, we know exactly where we are in England through Jane Austin’s work here. She invents a couple of small town country communities in England but a little work will get you close to where exactly she’s talking about, she didn’t want to give away where she was writing because she was writing a contemporary novel in the time.

 

She didn’t want to get in trouble with her homies where she was living at the time. I think she was living somewhere near Beth at the time, I’m not sure. Anyway, when you go through the novel, you see, merit and he’s 30 miles from London which is a full day’s coach ride and then Pemberly is another 30 miles north of that and so you get this sense of the universe where this characters are living and this small sort of circle that includes the north land of Pemberly, Meritan, Longhorn, London, even parts of London you begin to understand through her writing and the way she has characters talk about certain things in the novel, that’s a way to establish your place is like for example, I’m not saying to do this now but when we did that scene with 61 and Jessie, after he’s been — he’s had his head scrambled and it’s the day after and he’s sort of telling her a little bit about himself, he can be more specific about where he’s from.

 

Yeah, I grew up in Schenectady, or wherever it is you want to focus this world and I seriously would suggest that you concretely identify an area of the country that makes sense for you so that…

 

[0:12:21.4] TG: Actually look at a map and pick a place.

 

[0:12:25.2] SC: Yes. What kind of place, I mean, reading your novel of course because I’m from the east coast. I immediately place it somewhere in New York state or in new England but you I know are from the south so you might have been thinking this is somewhere in Georgia or South Carolina, I don’t know. It would be good to know that and then you add in little geographical elements into the story that further ground the reader so that the reader will understand exactly where on earth this story is taking and how the future — maybe the future whereby the town is no longer called Schenectady.

 

Like in the Hunger Games, we all had a feeling when we read it, this is sort of like the West Virginia, Pennsylvania corridor where this is taking place at the very beginning because this people are sort of coal miners, it seems like a woody place, kind of Appalachian kind of feel to it but she didn’t say Appalachia or Pennsylvania but the way she identified the feel of it gave you a sense of where it was in her own mind. Does that make sense?

 

[0:13:41.9] TG: Yeah, okay.

 

[0:13:43.6] SC: That’s the third element of setting which is location, where the story takes place in space. Now, the last one of the setting is really important and it’s something I talk about in the book a lot, it’s so essential and the fourth element of setting is the level of conflict that you’re dealing with. Now, the reason why this is part of the setting is because it gives us a sense of what environment, social environment, the character is under — is being influenced by. The level of conflict, now I should probably do a refresher course here on the three levels of conflict so that we’re very clear here.

 

The levels of conflict, there’s three of them. When I tell them to you, again, you’ll go yeah, “Oh yeah, I remember that.” Okay, the first one is internal and the internal level of conflict concerns what’s going on inside your protagonist or your antagonist for that matter, for whoever, who is the center of your scene — what’s going on for that? Jessie has an internal struggle that you and I have talked about, I don’t know how clear it is right now on the page. So it’s important to constantly be reminding yourself of what her internal struggle is and that’s her struggle for her to achieve her desire, to sort of return a stable home.

 

She wants a safe environment where everything’s okay again. Where her mom’s not crazy, her dad’s the nice guy that he always was, her brother’s home and everything is sort of back to normal. She wants to bring her life back to normal and what that means is to bring her and her family back together again. That’s one level of conflict. The conflict that she’s undergoing now is, “Oh my gosh, I’m nowhere near what I want, how am I going to move my agenda forward so that I can get what I want?”

 

That’s what we need to think about in terms of the settings, levels of conflict, the first one is — and this is always one in a coming of age story — is character is trying to get back to normal. They’re trying to get back to a level of safety. That’s her internal conflict is the personal level of conflict. And this is the struggle between two people or like a bully bullying a kind of a nerd on the playground, the nerd and the bully, that’s a level of conflict for the nerd because they’re saying how am I going to get over this conflict with this bully, how am I going to deal with this?

 

Again, we’re talking about a coming of age maturation plot for your story. You’re going to want to put Jessie in a position of a lot of personal conflict because in coming of age stories and maturation plots, you basically have a situation, it’s a convention of the protagonist who is sort of torn between allegiances. For example in that great movie Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta. Now, John Travolta in that movie plays this very gifted guy, he’s an amazing dancer but he’s also part of a group of guys and those guys are just mooks, they’re just guys form the neighborhood that he’s hung out, he’s known this guys since he was a little kid and they have a mini gang and part of the conflict here is his negotiating his world inside those relationships with those guys.

 

So, the conflict is how is he going to stay true to himself while also keeping his relationships with each one of those moots genuine and real. Of course by the end of the movie, we understand that that’s impossible. That he’s got to put aside, he’s got to get over his past in order to mature and not just be another mook from the neighborhood. It’s a great movie, it’s really one of the best maturation plots you’re ever going to see because it’s so clearly defined.

 

In your story, you’re going to want to have those elements too. You’re going to want to have groups of kids who, maybe there’s a cell unit of coders against another cell unit of coders and so Jessie’s brought in to this world where there’s all this little clicks of kids and she doesn’t know where she fits in and she has on side, what am I going to do to do to fit in with this little clicks, am I going to form any friendships one on one with people, am I going to have a rival, somebody who is trying to destroy me so that they can achieve more than I am.

 

We all have those rivals in our own lives. That’s the personal level of conflict is negotiating one on one relationships and the smaller sort of units of clicker. If I’m friends with Joe then Bill might think I’m a jerk and I really like Bill and I want Bill to be my friend but — so it’s all this things and this triangles of relationships that form the level of conflict in the personal. Now, the last level of conflict is the extra-personal and this is the struggle against institutions or environments. Your traditional action story that’s a survival story would be somebody trying to overcome the fold o something like that or a tornado or a hurricane or there was a really good movie a while back about a tidal wave and boy, it was really well done. I forget the name of the movie of course but that’s the situation where the character’s just trying to survive and trying to defeat the natural environment from killing them.

 

In your case, what we’re talking about is establishing extra-personal conflict in terms of the faction. What does the faction want form Jessie and can Jessie trust the faction? Jessie is already quickly learned that that go against the faction is going to really not be good for her. She was stuck with the numbered for a while and she had to get out of that situation or other people were going to get hurt. So the extra-personal is a very important one too. These are the three levels of conflict that are part of your setting of your story and it might seem a little strange but you really need to think of these things in terms of your setting because if you don’t know the faction and what it’s all about and the social institutions of what they’re all about in this faction then your level of conflict is not specific. It’s too amorphous. We don’t know what’s going to happen for Jessie if she doesn’t do things, we don’t know what the rewards are if she does the right thing. To know the history of the faction, the history of the geography, the way the world works in terms of this institutions is very important because these are the levels of conflict that Jessie is going to constantly be pressing up against in each and every scene. One of the really great things about thinking in terms of levels of conflict is that it gives a wide variety of opportunity to create scenes that deal with one or more of this levels of conflict.

 

For example when Jessie is running away from the numbered in your earlier scene, she’s dealing with a bunch of levels of conflict there. She’s trying to get back home, which is internal level of conflict but she’s also betraying 83 who is there to help her. So she’s pushing a negative toward one level of conflict while a positive in the other one. So if you think of your scenes in terms of levels of conflict, the more you have in there, the richer the scene will be because there will be different levels going on at the same time and ideally one will be a positive, another will be a negative so there will be a real mix of almost chaotic shifts of my god, if I do this, that will hurt that person but I need to do that or I won’t get that.

 

The reason why that’s a good mix is that’s the way it is in everyday life for everybody. If you can have your characters confronting the things that we all confront every day like right now, I’m not feeling very well, I’ve had the flu for three days. If I don’t do the podcast. I’m letting you down right? My internal conflict is do I just blow off Tim?

 

[0:23:04.3] TG: And our dozens of listeners.

 

[0:23:06.4] SC: That’s right. and the three people listening. If I blow off Tim, the that sets him back a week on his work and so I’m not trying to be a martyr here, I mean I’m perfectly okay to talk but that’s kind of the thing that we’re all dealing with and a lot of people in my position would say forget Tim, I’m not feeling well, I’m not going to sacrifice my health, Tim can wait a week. The choices that we make in our everyday life are the choices that you need your characters to be confronting too.

 

Now, it’s much more interesting than the flu when Jessie has to run away from the numbered so that’s a good thing. Generally when I’m talking about the world, I think you’re seeing the four different dimensions of it and there are different ways to attack figuring out all the answers here.

 

[0:23:57.5] TG: When you look at what I sent you which is just this — I try to break down like the power structures and who is in charge of what and what’s motivating the power structures to do what they do and this is how they keep control over people and here’s the hierarchy of this people are more important than this people. That’s still important even though it doesn’t necessarily — go ahead.

 

[0:24:22.9] SC: What you are doing while you were exploring the extra personal levels of conflict in the fourth dimension of setting you get it?

 

[0:24:31.3] TG: Yes.

 

[0:24:31.8] SC: Okay, that is really important stuff but if you don’t know just to back up. This is the future, we know that, what happened to get to the future. You need to sort of like figure out in 2016, we all know what the world is like today. In 2056, there is a cataclysmic event that requires a very big depravation of resources. I’m just making this up as we go. Some cataclysmic event happened and a lot of people die and so the resources that are left are very limited but a very smart group of people decided that the best way to keep the most people alive is to divide those resources very systematically and incrementally.

 

That no one person has too much or too little. The device this political system in order to keep the mass of people who were panicking stable and what they decide is well, we’ve got this system that everybody is used to, which is the digital universe. Everybody understands what that’s all about and everybody likes to go and escape into that system. If we can somehow get people plugged in to that, the majority of hours of the day then they won’t require as much food as they would need et cetera.

 

You can kind of see where I’m going here, it’s coming up with the timeline like in planet of the apes. Somebody had to think about okay, our space ship guy leaves earth in 1976 or 1972 or whenever that movie was. He goes around in the universe and when he comes back, it’s 200 years later. In that 200 years, the following things happened. They actually have a lot of sequels to Planet of The Apes that explain this back story. The apes rise and they defeat man and they take over the whole world and they make it an agrarian system again and all of technology is pushed aside and now this space man arrives and humans are now the slaves and the apes are now ruling the world.

 

Somebody had to figure out that track before they wrote that first Planet of the Apes movie. They didn’t just say, “Let’s have apes rule this planet.” They had to say to themselves, “Let’s make it earth,” and if you remember the very end of the movie, it’s when the guy discovers it’s earth and he goes, “Oh my god, what have we done?” It’s that great moment, and it’s Charlton Heston too. He’s like the perfect guy for that part. But anyway, that’s kind of what you have to think about and when you start thinking about this, guess what happens? You discover — you’re going to discover so many great things that you can use the plot of your story because a lot of this stuff, Jessie doesn’t know.

 

She doesn’t know the backstory of how the faction came to be or how this stuff works because she’s sort of been raised in this period of non-history where everybody just sort of goes in these fantasy factories and there’s not real sense of history. That could be part of your story too. If there’s no history then nobody has any bearings, nobody can understand what’s happened before and be able to use that information to direct their future. That was one of the great things about The Hunger Games too.

 

It was this dystopia that basically expunged history and that’s an interesting way to get a lot of revelatory moments in your story that can be real body blows to your reader and knock the wind out of them. Like, “Oh, no, this is Massachusetts that we’re on.” “What? You mean this is,” — that’s sort of — I’m sorry to just go off like that but I was thinking in my head, you could have a revelatory moment where Jessie doesn’t know the history of where they are and she finds some history book and discovers she’s living somewhere in Massachusetts. I don’t know, I just made that up too.

 

[0:29:21.5] TG: Right.

 

[0:29:22.7] SC: But this is the kind of fun stuff, as an analytical thinker that I know that you are, if you figure out this things, what you’re going to discover is it’s going to help you really structure the rest of your novel because if you know this entire story is taking place in 15 months then after your beginning hook took place in three weeks, then your middle is going to take place over a period of 13 months and then your ending payoff will probably be some kind of big climactic battle or event that will happen in one day or one night or one afternoon or a week or whatever.

 

[0:30:07.3] TG: Yeah, I mean, this makes me think again about Harry Potter where every book was over a school year.

 

[0:30:13.0] SC: Right, and J.K. Rowling was thinking, “How do I structure this novel?” Just do it in the school year, because everybody can relate to a school year. Setting obviously is a big monster of a problem to think about and consider. And when you do that, the amount of structural stuff that will come to you will be astounding. When you’re thinking of the levels of conflict, you’ll start thinking of characters that will have to fill in the slots of these levels of conflicts.

 

You’ll be thinking of, “Well, I need to have a group of kids who are just like the geniuses and I need to have the kids who are really incredibly instinctual players and Jessie has to be somewhere in the middle and they both don’t like her for some reason and she has to integrate herself and figure out a way to use one group against the other. She’s got to form some friendships. It’s sort of like in the first draft of your novel that you wrote back in March, your lead character have friendships, she had enemies, and that’s what you have to bring to the table here too.

 

[0:31:31.3] TG: I have the period kind of down and I can lock that down. Duration I can work on, I mean it’s probably somewhere along the lines of what you said, location is relatively, like I can basically just make a decision on that. And then if I look at the three levels of conflict, the internal, personal and extra-personal, when it comes to the middle build in particular, I’ve now put a decent amount of thought into the extra personal and the kind of structure that she’s in. And then the internal we established already but the work I need to do is figure out the personal levels of conflict, because that’s when I’ll find her allies or enemies, the guy that’s in charge, all that kind of stuff. Am I thinking about that right?

 

[0:32:18.5] SC: Yes you are. Also, I would recommend that you consider using some sort of institutional thing as your guide. For example, J.K. Rowling used the school year. Now Jessie’s going into something like a school year. She’s going into super-secret training. We’re talking about like intellectual navy seal training. So again, like we talked about last week, you can structure your middle build with that in mind so the first day of school, what’s it like? Who’s going to have instructors? She’s going to have conflicts with other students, she’s going to want to know where the cafeteria is.

 

She’s going to want to know when she can talk to her parents, she’s going to want to know about mail, all that kind of stuff you can integrate into the story and also you’ve got a lot of wiggle room here, because it’s the middle build. So you can think of, in terms of sequences, Jessie’s indoctrination into coder school. That could be a sequence of five scenes. One could be a class room scene, one could be a dining hall scene, one could be a training scene in the arena. You have to think about the arena too. You have to think about where the threshing battles take place. Is it in cyberspace, what does it look like? Is there like an octagon?

 

That’s one of the great things that Orson Scott Card did in Enders Game is he gave you a real sense of the training arena. Is it a football field? What does it look like? How many dimensions is it? Is there a time element? Those kind of things. So Jessie’s indoctrination into coder school, that sequence of five scenes could have a great training scene in it. It could have the meeting the friend in the cafeteria scene. You know what I’m getting at. So you take big lumps and then you break them down into smaller bits and then you use your work that you’re doing now on setting and you say, “Well, let’s see, back in the day, after the climactic big cataclysmic event, when they setup the new grid system, the central power decided to do this and so they setup this system where the factions would compete in a semiannual, bi-annual or whatever it is. Every year they get together and fight and whoever wins gets more credits.

 

You can think about who is behind that central power. Is it an artificial intelligence? Is it human? Is it a human/AI construct? Who knows? That’s kind of the fun part, that really central power base is probably the thing that you’re going to want to elude to a lot in book one and save it for later on like Voldemort and he who’s name shall not be spoken or whatever. You need to create that central ultimate evil force that Jessie’s going to have to come up against and you can do that by peppering in references to, “Well, that’s not the rules work in the octagon. You see, when it was setup, it was setup for very specific reasons. The reason why you can’t do that is this.”

 

Those kind of rules are wonderful, specific things that your reader is going to eat up like potato chips because they’re going to want to know, “Oh wow, how do you get around this rules? How is Jessie going to get out of the situation? How is she going to become the best coder?” You’ve got to know the rulers of the territory, you got to really pin yourself in, in terms of your setting on all four dimensions so that as you’re starting to put this big globs of sequences together and you get further down to the scene level, you’ll go, “Oh, this will be a great moment to drop in that exposition about the octagon. I’ll put that in the scene where she has lunch in the cafeteria.” Do you see what I’m saying?

 

[0:36:57.0] TG: Yeah.

 

[0:36:58.8] SC: This is really fun work.

 

[0:37:00.3] TG: Yeah, and this is where I got to figure all of this out. I at least got it figured out 80% of the structure ahead of time because that’s what’s going to give me, you’re saying that’s going to help me make decisions as I’m writing too?

 

[0:37:15.4] SC: Yes.

 

[0:37:16.4] TG: because I’ll know like the kind of world they’re living in.

 

[0:37:19.8] SC: Exactly and you’ll know, what’s going to happen Tim is that you’re going to start to feel your own internal — the story is going to start feeling, and breathing a life of its own in your brain and there will become this clock in your head where you say, “Oh my gosh, the threshing’s going to come up soon. I’ve got to get Jessie ready for the thrashing, because if I don’t then she’s going to blow up.” This is when the more work you do here. Now, I think you’re right, I think 80% of the work is the right way to go. Don’t spend 17 weeks getting down to the nitty gritty of what kind of crackers they have in the commissary, you know? You’ll be surprised like a lot of people go nuts and they go to that level far too quickly.

 

The trick is to get your very broad really essential elements locked in and stick to them. Stick to your duration, stick to your time period, stick to your levels of conflict and that way — but to do 80% of it, that will allow you to make changes and it won’t drive you crazy because you might say, “My villain’s a little bit too obvious. If I just make this one minor tweak, I can really make this villain shocking.” I’m sure as J.K. Rowling was working on Harry Potter, she was really getting into a lot of this detail and the detail fed more of her characterization, et cetera. I think 80% is a really good ball park figure to go for.

 

Know what the capital looks like; is this literally in Washington or did they have to move the capital north? Because if this is an environmental catastrophe, chances are, everybody had to move to Canada or to Siberia and maybe all of humanity is living at the two ends of the poles, who knows. Maybe there’s this vast wasteland in the belly of earth where the north and the South Pole don’t talk to each other because there’s this massive dessert in between. That could be something to think about, and you can use that as a revelation in the story.

 

Well there’s this legend that there’s this marauding band of crazy humans who are just living like ferrel animals in the wasteland, you don’t want to go to the wasteland Jessie. That sets up things in the future to be exiled from this world might mean you’re thrown into this wasteland and there could be, if there’s a civilization at the north pole, chances are there is one on the south too. So these are the kinds of things that you can, you as Tim, get to have fun with and to have the broad strokes outlined so that when you start mapping out your sequences and scenes, you can drop in this expositional details in interesting ways instead of somebody reading a history book, then you’re really going to start cooking with gas because a lot of this scenes will become self-evident.

 

[0:40:56.2] TG: Is this also where I should probably go back and read the first several scenes of the middle build of the Harry Potters and Hunger Games and other books to just get reminded of how other authors are introducing the allies, the enemies the new world, the rules of the new world? Because, to me, that feels like a good time to go back and look at the way other people have done this because you know, they’ve done it already.

 

[0:41:25.7] SC: Yeah, exactly. The guy who wants to create the wheel finds out the guy who made the first wheel and how do I do this again? Yeah, absolutely going back to your favorite books and seeing how the masters solved this problems, there’s no reason why you can’t learn from them.

 

[0:41:46.0] TG: Right.

 

[0:41:47.8] SC: You could say, “Oh, she did a scene where everybody goes into the camp,” and there’s a competition for marshmallows, I don’t know. Whatever it is, that’s a good thing to do because then you’ll be able to list some options to structure these sequences in a way that makes sense.

 

[0:42:08.1] TG: Right, okay. So what I need to do is take the thing I sent you and expand it in these ways we talked about. Get more into the nitty gritty of what the threshing is and what the training looks like and start planning out who this characters are that she’s going to have personal connections and conflicts with, and just go further down that rabbit trail. So it sounds like I was on the right track, I just have more work to do in that space.

 

[0:42:36.3] SC: Yes, I would literally break it down into those four dimensions. Put in bold, duration, location. I’m so sick I completely just forgot.

 

[0:42:51.3] TG: The duration, location and level of conflict and then there’s the three under the level of conflict. I got you, I wrote it down.

 

[0:42:58.0] SC: Okay good.

 

[0:43:01.8] TG: Okay, well I’ll get moving on that and we’ll reconvene next week and go over that.

 

[0:43:06.7] SC: Okay, sounds good.

 

[END OF EPISODE]

[0:43:07.7] TG: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Story Grid Podcast. For everything Story Grid related, check out storygrid.com. Make sure you pick up a copy of the book and sign up for the newsletter, make sure you don’t miss anything happening in the Story Grid universe. If you’d like to check out the show notes for this episode or any past episodes, all of that can be found at storygrid.com/podcast.

 

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7 comments on “Four Dimensional Settings

  1. mlibdoyle says:

    I’ve listened to this twice and am glad the transcript is posted now. Although I have the dimensions of time period, duration and location nailed down, I’ve been missing opportunities with my WIP by neglecting the conflict dimension of setting – thanks so much for the reminder!

  2. yiddish correction= It’s futzing not fitzing.

  3. erikaviktor says:

    I really super enjoyed this post! It made me think of my latest work and how time is a super important dimension of setting and I absolutely have to get it right!

    Will listen to it a second time!

  4. Danny says:

    Great episode. I love the practical advice especially on the conflict dimensions.

  5. Tina says:

    Are there places where people really go off the grid? Like caves and underground dwellings where wifi or the gaming connections can’t penetrate? These kind of places could be part of the setting. Like the old coal mines or newly dug safe spots.

  6. Renee Labrenz says:

    Having difficulty with the ending of my WIP. This helped me with a clear conclusion which still lets the reader wanting more. Thanks….IMMENSELY. Very useful.

  7. The thrill of being a pantser and watching my story pour out spontaneously is fading away forever, I fear. You have finally convinced me (especially in this episode, yes, even though Shawn was sick) that being a plotter is better. Plotters have power. I like that. I want that! Thanks so much for tirelessly teaching us how to wrest our fiction writing power and put it to good use. Priceless…

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