The other day, a friend asked what one’s favorite and least favorite setting tropes in fiction. Just casually, the way one does on social media.
And to be honest, that’s not something I think about very often or hard — when it comes to media I want to consume, it’s a lot easier for me to get drawn in by character and plot tropes instead. Tell me that there’s a pair with unhealthy loyalty issues that they are either addressing or running away with, or about the closed-off character that is reluctantly learning to connect and make friends, and I’ll be there. Drop a hint that there will be villain families or a mystery involving supernatural aspects, and I’m definitely going to be listening. I have dozens of pings (some of which I don’t really think about until they pop up) when it comes to characters and plotlines.
But settings? I rarely think specifically about “I want to read something that’s set in a specific location.” When she asked the question, my first thought boiled down to, “anywhere but here.”
My secret, inasmuch as it is one, is that I’m not a fan of contemporary settings.
Of course there are definitely exceptions! I’ve definitely consumed media that takes place in “our” world with nothing strange or supernatural to it, and enjoyed myself. I won’t dismiss something immediately out of the gate just because it’s contemporary fiction… but I will be less enthusiastic about it. I always want something a little more, something that’s not going to be familiar except through the writer’s ability to convey that comfortable feeling. Contemporary paranormal stories are closer to my preference, because I enjoy that extra element. How does a werewolf handle a dayjob while juggling the full moon? How, if at all, have the fae adapted to this modern world of iron and steel? Do these otherwoldly creatures coexist amongst mundane humanity, or alongside it, a step away without everyday direct interaction? Things like that.
And maybe some of that is just how I, personally, interact with the world. I have a busy and involved social life, but it involves hanging out at apartments and homes or going out to eat. I’m content with my everyday life, but it isn’t anything I’d brag about as exciting or dramatic; it’s a nice sort of story to live, but not really one I feel compelled to write about.
When it comes to consuming media, I prefer an extra element of escapism. I like a world that has taken a couple of steps away from my normal, where parallels definitely exist, but I couldn’t namedrop a city like Seattle and have the characters know anything about it. I want to see a different society exist in the worlds of someone else’s story, whether it’s humans that have built themselves a different world, humans living aside some sort of supernatural or alient one, or a story set completely within a nonhuman society.
None of these things really fit into the idea of a “contemporary” story, as far as I’ve ever experienced. There’s nothing I think is inherently wrong with the subgenre, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my preferences; it really is just solely a case of different tastes.
Within my own writing, I never think about setting first. Instead, I start with the characters. Usually it’s the one who becomes the narrator and their partner, with the rest of the cast built from there. And often by developing the main characters I can figure out the plot (which may or may not be directly tied to the conflict between the characters; I’d consider myself foremost a romance writer, after all). Sometimes that’s easier than not; Simon’s Cat is explicitly a retelling of Puss in Boots, so that was done “for” me, as it were.
Everything else, though, tends to move in an outwards spiral. Only once I have those down do I start building the world around the characters. Ravenhearth began because I was turning around the idea of “Beauty and the Beast meets Bluebeard.” And while the final story didn’t quite follow that (though I think it came close), that was the seed that I build the rest of the story around. And since then, the world itself has stuck in my mind; I know exactly what caused the miasma and the events that led up to that, as well as some of the immediate fallout when that occurred. I’d like very much to go back to that world someday, when I’ve got more concrete ideas in mind.
In the end, to answer my friend’s question, I did say “anything but contemporary” as my least favorite (though I didn’t really have a favorite to mention, either). But I’ve been mulling over that ever since; even if the answer itself is straightforward, I’m not sure how satisfied I am with it.
With 2018 being the year I want to try stretching myself further, I do think that I’d like to at least try branching out into this genre I have such little experience with. Both in consuming media and in writing, I do think it’d be fun to try.
(And of course, if anyone has recommendations for the media, I’d be happy to hear them. °˖✧◝(⁰▿⁰)◜✧˖°)