I realize that I'm veering into creepy territory because spiders can make some readers squeamish. However, bear with me, as my Spiderville update will morph back into a short discussion on setting before the end of this post. I just like to include spider updates because, well, they inspire me and get my imagination going, as you'll soon see.
As many of you may remember, we've been renovating a bathroom in our house for about a million years. We don't use it much, and so consequently we sometimes have spiders decide to take up residence in the sink. I typically name them, because...well, why not? I thought this season we were going to be spiderless and then suddenly, Rigel appeared. He seemed a bit tiny, but over the last few weeks he's come into his own and grown. Another little bitty spider appeared, and I thought Rigel might eat him. So did he apparently, and so he made his home in a roll of toilet paper I had forgotten to put on the spindle (spiders are a lot like cats--leave anything out for five minutes and they claim it). I named him Spot, because that's what he looks like when I peer into his little home, which seems to get more elaborate every day. A snack here, an entree there. Next he'll be doing cooking shows in there ala Rachel Ray, at which point I will definitely put my foot down. One must draw the line somewhere, you know?
Then there's Lester, the hopping spider who's taken residence above the medicine cabinet. He rushes down every time I enter the bathroom, as if he honestly thinks I'm going to be his next meal. Good luck with that, Tiny. I swear his multiple little shoulders sag when he realizes it's just me, and I can hear itty bitty expletives as he trudges all the way back up the mirror, although whether those expressions of disgust are meant for me or just because the mirror makes his butt look big, I'm honestly not sure.
Obviously, my imagination runs overtime, a hazard of the writing trade, I'm sure. However, it's helped me tremendously, especially in trying paint a picture of the setting of a story. I have to narrow down the details before I can get them across to readers. Sure, my bathroom looks like an average almost-remodeled bathroom with some spiders hanging out in it on the surface, but what if when I close the door those little guys have conversations? Maybe they play poker on Friday nights, or hang out on the window sill and scope birds. Do they get together to have little Spiderville city council meetings? What about mayoral elections? Does the biggest spider eat the rest and that's it,or do they go to the polls like we do? It's these kinds of thoughts that help me create the worlds in which my characters dwell.
Setting can be a very important element in a story, especially dystopian ones or those that are set in the future. I usually try to keep my settings simple; however, in my fantasy and paranormals, that can be difficult to do. Some readers actually read stories more for the world created than anything else. In my Dragon Song series, to develop the Time Before I had to imagine a place where humans and the Dragon Kind lived together but rarely interacted until the story dictated they needed to. There are villages among the mountains and valleys, but also forests, and in my latest Dragon Song entry, a cave will play a pivotal role.
One of the most fun settings I have had the pleasure of creating is the village of damned souls in Seducing Gracie. It appears once every five years out of a fog so that a suitable sacrifice can be found for its mayor. It's filled with bloodthirsty townspeople that appear absolutely normal on the surface. No one, including Gracie, who stumbles upon the town while searching for clues to a kidnapping, realizes the town's deadly secret. The fun part was trying to capture the right blend of the outwardly normal appearance of the town with the menacing undercurrent of the evil that lurked there.
For my latest story, I'm going all out setting-wise and having a blast! It's going to be a whole new world for the humans that inhabit planet earth in a near future...literally. I'm still working out the details, but suffice it to say, I'm really digging creating lush desert oases and industrial wastelands and the tribes of people who live there.
What about you? What kinds of settings do you like to read about or create? What inspires these settings? Does the setting come first or the story?
Feel free to share in the comments section. In the meantime, I have to go answer the door. It looks like someone in Spiderville ordered pizza!