In this post, we continue with the investigation of the “WHERE” and “WHEN” of storytelling. This is the fifth post for this series. Please have a look at the previous four posts before reading on:
Location (“where” of a story) is very important. And when we think of location, we usually also relate it to a specific time period (“when” of a story).
Let’s look at the significance that time period plays in a writer’s work first.
There are some authors who specialise in writing novels in a particular time period, doing in-depth research before penning their novels. Sometimes, their interest in these time periods is so intense that they would decide to pen an entire series of books in this time period. We usually call these types of novels historical novels. An example of such titles lies in this list on Amazon.com.
Alternatively, some authors choose to create a world or worlds of their own. Some writers who chose this route may prefer forging a new world from scratch for the location(s) of their stories over hours spent in the library doing research. The fantasy genre is one arena where such authors exercise their vivid imagination. An example can be seen in this list on Amazon.com. Science-fiction novels is another area where worlds can be created, as shown in this list on Amazon.com.
Of course, there are also the biographical titles where stories are narrated from the past. These may seem to be the easiest out of the three when it comes to writing a story but one has to remember that biographical stories are also the most limiting – since the stories are weaved out of established facts from the past that cannot be changed, and technical details such as the schools where the main individuals graduated from are expected to be very precise. Therefore, for such writing, it’s less of imagining or conducting research and more of interviewing individuals close to the person a writer is writing on, as well as consolidating and synthesising data and information useful to the content of the book to increase its accuracy. An example can be found in this list on Amazon.com.
Besides time period, there is also the element of location. Unlike time period, which is usually fixed, location can vary – even within the same time period. For example, if a story of espionage is set within World War II, the lead protagonist can move from Italy to Britain to Germany to Japan. Hence, other than biographical stories, writers are often given the flexibility to decide on the locations, and the order in which they appear.
Stories can move from one location to another in a fast or slow manner, and sometimes, they can return to the initial location. Locations can also be indoor or outdoor, providing different scenarios for different scenes to be played out. For instance, a cat-and mouse search within a house can only happen indoor, while a car chase can only occur outdoor. Location also determines if the setting is in a rural or urban area or both – and these differences make a whole lot of difference in how readers perceive the story.
It is important for writers to have a good understanding of how their story is going to be played out. Once the story is determined, the background of the story should be decided soon. This is because only when the story background is laid out can writers determine the time period and location.
The period and location determines the “feel” of the story and hence, it is important that these two factors get decided first before commencing writing. Of course, writers are free to improvise and revise their decisions later but unless writers choose to rewrite their stories, it is impossible to change the time period of the story. Furthermore, changes in location later in the story-writing process have their limitations. Thus, extra care has to be given to this aspects of story-writing.