Some people read a story because of the illustration on the cover. Some read it and enjoy it because it has deep characters and interesting social interaction. Some will pick up a story because someone who is “famous” suggested it.
None of these people are me.
When I read a story, what grabs my attention first and foremost is the setting.
I don’t just mean the “place” either. For me, setting is not only the “where?” but the “what is going on?”. The situation that everyone in the story lives in. Mundane settings can get my attention, if I know the book is going to thrust the characters into a situation that causes me to suspend disbelief on some level, but the books that draw me back to read and reread are always the ones that have a lifelike world that is interesting, a foundation off of which stories can be written that are, if nothing else, interesting.
When it comes to writing, though, setting is almost the bane of my existence.
When I come up with a story idea, I always have to figure out the setting first, and that can take seemingly forever. I want to know everything I can know about the place and time and happenings of the universe I want my story to grow in. Thus, I end up working on an almost encyclopedic knowledge of this place, trying to grasp at everything from daily life to the political situation to understood science.
The problem: in doing this, I sometimes lose sight of my story.
You would not believe the number of great stories that I have had meander through my mind which have had this happen. The adventures of galactic travelers-lost in trying to work out a universe for them to travel through. A man going insane-lost in trying to define the city and state where it all goes wrong for him. A band of thieves, castoffs from their own society, that happen on a small planet inhabited by a people on the cusp of gaining the stars themselves-lost to the definition of their own culture and the things which might drive a million year old civilization. The list goes on.
I keep trying to figure out what it is I should do to get the story out, perhaps keeping the “history of the universe” fluid and only in my mind, something that I can edit as needed to make things occur in the story. Perhaps I should do as some others have, and pick a setting, flesh it out and thoroughly develop it before trying to write a story at all.
I guess we’ll see what happens. On the one hand, I always enjoy writing stories with the internal thought of,”What if? What then?”, but I need a place for it to happen, you know? It’s hard to write a story that makes sense that basically looks like this: