Today we continue exploring setting. Besides place, setting involves choosing the appropriate time. Like the location of your story, the time period can also serve as a metaphorical backdrop to your plot or characters. Did you do your homework? No worries. I'll catch you up. The movie Bladerunner came out in 1982. It's set in a 'near distant future' - 2019. Well, hello! That's just around the corner now! The premise has a renegade cop hunting down cyberclones run amok. Today, such an event in four years seems quite farfetched. What about in 2038? Now, you're not so sure. In any case, the story works because we can only imagine life in increments of five or ten years ahead. Consider the world your grandchildren might live, and you might find yourself in the middle of a Ray Bradbury novel.
Our topic today involves time. Even if you are set to write a dystopian romance set in some indistinct post-apocalyptic future, you'll need to do some research.
Future: Three things deserve attention in these stories: how we wage war, how we heal, how we live/work. Pay special attention to those elements, and you can set your characters in a very realistic and possible future. The key is to keep some basics the same. Basics that might remain unchanged: hairstyles, the planet's physical continental geography, language. Consider how we've changed over the centuries. What has changed the most? Technology, healthcare, transportation. What has changed the least? Systems - every workplace has a hierarchy; every government has corrupt or idealistic leaders; every country has some level of poverty, illiteracy, domestic violence.
The key is to select a handful of things to change and things to keep the same. The right mixture creates a very realistic and plausible future in the mind of your present-day reader.
Books to read: 1984, Atlas Shrugged, Brave New World, The Road.
I am not examining Fantasy (which has its own time concerns). Here's a good site to visit.
Past: The obvious difference here is that the past has happened. You can't change it. Or can you? You do call yourself a writer of fiction, don't you? The trick to setting your story in the past involves strategy. (Something to take note: stories set in the 1960s that were written then are not historical. They are contemporary morphing into "period" pieces. A story written today that is set in 1982 would be classified historical fiction if it centers around an important event (the AIDS epidemic). A story written today set in the 1990s that involves a fictitious teenager struggling to own his own sexual identity with no reference to actual events might simply be a 'story set in the past'.) Back to the strategy. Guess what, it's called research. Yep, I said it again. Remember, the past has happened. Chances are your readers know something about it - either through direct experience, reading about it or talking to someone who lived through it. You can't have your pawn broker living in 1939 New York and not identify events relating to the war. How did a regular working class citizen spend their days while troops flew out over the Atlantic? The strategy means - keep the global basics the same, change the small stuff. Don't change the president in 1954 (Eisenhower), but go ahead and create a fictitious town in Nebraska with a fictitious mayor who might actually be some distant relative to Ike. Be a writer, but don't be a lazy writer.
Books to read: The Book Thief, Girl with the Pearl Earring, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Island of the Blue Dolphin.
Present: Now we get to have some fun. Why? Because the present is happening right now! You are living it. You know most about this time period. Many great writers tell us to 'write what you know'. Well, you know 2015, so write it into your story. To really ground your story into today, find something in the news, something controversial, something that when the reader reads it, they'll go 'omg! I remember that'. Example: Obamacare, fracking, medical marijuana, marriage equality. How might either of these issues affect your characters?
Books to read because they are amazing: Any Pulitzer.
What's important to remember is that no matter where or when you set your story, you need to be consistent. Do your research. (Don't let your 17-year-old hero buy a 1971 Ford Fairlane today if he doesn't have twenty grand.)
What's your favorite time setting? Share it here with us.
More on time and seasons next week.
Until then, write on!