Scenes, Settings and World Building

The fourth Boldly Reading blog prompt for Star Trek fanfiction asked the following questions –

For your fourth blog prompt I am going to ask you to consider the setting. I’ve written a post touching on this before where I find that settings/locations often shape a story. So tell me, how do you choose your settings – be it planet, ship, ship class, heck Trek era even? How does the setting shape your story? What world building lengths do you seek as a writer / as a reader? Do you like descriptions and to paint the scene or do you leave it to the imagination of the reader. However you choose to interpret this prompt, have at it.

A Sense of Place

The location of a story is, easily, just as vital as its characters. After all, the characters interact with it as much as they interact with each other. Do they duck their heads as they walk? Are they breathless because the locations are far-flung? Is it cold in there?

Sensory Perception

When we go to various places, we experience them in manners that are not purely visual. Hence I’d like to talk about five rather dissimilar story scenes in the context of the five senses.

Vision

Eriecho‘s life is a jumble of various visuals.

Compass
Compass

In Release, she goes from Canamar Prison to a transport and then, eventually, to a Martian Sanctuary. Putting together the look and feel of Canamar involved describing elliptical things, such as a reference to hanging up laundry, or her adoptive mother H’Shema’s fondness for the color green.

The sanctuary has its own visuals, like the temporary-style buildings that look like quonset huts, to the benches and rough-hewn tables at the community dinner (a reference back to the eating area when I attended a small summer camp in Maine in the 1970s).

The people are also indirectly described, including Colonel Shaw referring to a female Vulcan who looks like a runner and a guy with great teeth (her adoptive father, Saddik). The reader should get a sense of place and people, but not a perfect one. There’s still a little mystery. The characters still get a little privacy.

Sound

Shrapnel
Shrapnel

In the Multiverse II storyline, the best use of sound is in a collaborative post with Templar Sora, called Spin.

Templar Sora’s character, Seymour Sonia, is injured, badly, the bones of his left arm shattered by an exploded grenade. He is pulled out of the war zone by the head of Resistance Cell #4, one Rita Spinelli.

Rita is tough and angry and more than a little damaged. But she needs good soldiers and, even wounded, Sonia is probably a better bet than most others. She brings him to a small, rough cabin. And begins to remove the shrapnel from his arm.

Every now and then, as the two characters talk, the sounds clink or thunk punctuate their statements. The reader does not have to be told what’s going on, or at least not that much. Instead, the reader can almost hear it.

I have written plenty of musical fiction, where character actions are drawn out or explained or magnified by song lyrics, but I believe that Spin gets across the sounds of an unfamiliar scene better than just about anything.

Smell

For Daranaeans, scent is so much more of an indicator of feminine attractiveness than anything else. So much so that the females are divided into three castes, and it’s based on smell rather than visuals.

Cria, a Daranaean second caste female
Cria, a Daranaean second caste female

In Take Back the Night, the legendary beauty, Dratha, is described by the panting popular press as having an extraordinary aroma. They are far less concerned about what she says than about the air about her. This is in line with the overall sexism of the Emergence series – women are second-class citizens.

What’s their planet like? I like to think that it’s got a great deal of what we would call natural beauty. Part of that would be to promote Daranaean health (and the lower caste females practice some forms of folk medicine in The Cure is Worse Than the Disease and Flight of the Bluebird, so hedges and whatnot are necessary), but also for Daranaean comfort. I cannot see this world as being polluted in any way – Daranaeans would notice.

Taste

Chicken soup
Chicken soup

For Penicillin, the premise was, to me, irresistible. Major Hayes is sick, and he doesn’t want anyone to know. Lili, of course, figures it out when she hears him coughing. And so she vows to make him something that will help him feel a little better, and keep quiet about his minor illness, but extracts a return promise from him. He’s got to smile more.

The story ends with a spread of chicken soup (and vegetarian vegetable soup for the vegan characters) with all sorts of trimmings. Hayes is last in the chow line and thanks her for her thoughtfulness and discretion. I revisit this scene at the end of Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, when Hayes wills her his lucky nickel, in payment for his outstanding chicken soup debt.

Touch

Touch can be thrilling, and it can also be awkward. For Treve and Pamela Hudson, in  Complications, it’s both.

Touch
Touch

For their first time making love (which may very well be the first time that any human and Calafan ever had sex), Treve and Pamela become, well, there’s no good way to say this.

Stuck.

Without becoming pornographic, the reader gets inklings of this, as Pamela talks about normally getting up afterwards for various reasons, and Treve letting her know that it’s just not going to happen in this case. At least, not any time soon.

The reader, again, does not need to have a perfectly clear picture painted in order to have an idea of what is going on.

Upshot

Where it all happens is as vital as when, and what happens, and who it happens to. Before even starting a fiction, the scene is one of the first things I think of. If I can’t work the setting out to my satisfaction, I’ve found, that can often hamper my creative efforts considerably.

Location matters.

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