Contemplating Setting Aesthetics

I’m in a strange sort of mood tonight and I got to thinking about something I’m calling Setting Aesthetics.  I don’t know if someone’s described this before; I’m just working with what I’ve got inside my brain.  In case you were wondering, no, I’m not actually trained in writing.  I took a couple Creative Writing classes in college, one for prose and one for poetry, but neither really told me anything I didn’t already know from years of self-education.

So I consider myself self-trained in writing.

In point of fact, the Prose Creative Writing course was the worse of the two.  I am not exaggerating to say that the only benefit I received from the class was meeting my husband.  I was already skilled past the ability of the professor to teach and I was not, by any stretch of the imagination, as skilled as I am now.  I had worlds of growth left to do, and still have, but all he was prepared to teach was Grammar and Mechanics in Written Form; he had not read for entertainment in longer than he could comfortably remember (said he didn’t have time for it); and had the audacity to correct grammar in dialogue!

I believe that professor is no longer teaching that particular course, but I don’t know for certain.  At the time I was attending classes, the idea of Creative Writing as a viable minor or even major was unheard of in my area.  If I’d known that I could have gotten my whole degree in it when I’d gone looking for universities, I’d have gone to a school specifically for that.  To say that I took my writing seriously at a young age is not exaggerating the issue.

I’ve been self-training since I was six, consciously so since I was about twelve.  Writing and Storytelling is part of what I am, ever so much more than simply what I do.

I got my hands on an actual book for helping writers and it was about some unknown concept called “voice”, which was something I not only have never had a problem with, but wasn’t even aware was a factor.  It was never brought up in any of the English and Literature classes I’d taken, except as a slight aside relating to Hemingway which meant completely nothing to me in 7th or 8th grade.  It was never even considered as a factor in grading any essays I had written through four years of college.

So, needless to say, it didn’t really help me in any way except, maybe, to make me suddenly insecure about this unknown concept that I’d never thought could be a factor in writing.  Go figure.

In any event, this idea popped into my head for “Setting Aesthetics“, the look to any given setting type.  It has to do with the way a setting looks to the characters.  It’s more a factor for my stories than for some others because, let’s face it, my characters encounter a lot of different settings.  The same character could be wandering through your standard Sword and Sorcery Fantasy World one day and end up in a Post Apocalyptic Wasteland the next.

My favorite Setting Aesthetic is actually Steampunk.  Founded in the concepts and inventions of Leonardo diVinci (brilliant man and one of my personal heroes), the look and costuming of the settings can run the gamut from 15th Century all the way through 19th Century (that’s 1400’s through 1800’s, in case you were wondering), making it the most adaptable Aesthetic next to the ever popular Standard Fantasy, which can range from 1066 up to 1600… give or take a century.

I find a beauty to the wood and fabric and metal of Steampunk that simply is not present in some of the other possibilities.  Some of the Future settings, in particular.  Post-Apocalyptic is simply too dark to really be beautiful to my eyes and the super-clean and smooth aesthetics of some of the space settings just… there’s no humanity to it.  Which, admittedly, can be part of the point if that’s what the setting is supposed to communicate.  That, and I just prefer an older look all around.

That said, Star Wars rocks aesthetically.  But that’s because there’s a very strong Asian influence to the look of things and that’s a timeless aesthetic.

Which brings me to another of my favorite points to make; Science Fiction is just like Fantasy except that they default to shouting “Dinosaur!” instead of “Dragon!” when the humongous lizard shows up.  Is it a Fireball Wand or a Flamethrower?  It performs the same action, has the same result, but the difference is purely semantics when each side is sufficiently advanced. (If you don’t believe me, ask Isaac Asimov and Mercedes Lackey, from whom I got the beginnings of this concept.)

You can tell the exact same stories, the exact same plots; ask the exact same questions about the nature of humanity and morality and ethics on both sides of the coin.  The only difference lies in Setting Aesthetics.

What does everything look like?

Is it a robot or a construct (golem or similar crafted being)?  Is it magic or is it psychic phenomena?  Are they Aliens or are they Elves?  Every single convention of Science Fiction has a corresponding convention in Fantasy.  Drawing the line between the two is simply a matter of semantics and aesthetics.

I’m sure there’s a point in this mass of words somewhere.  I’m liable to keep going for ages when I get a soapbox and a topic I find interesting.  I hope that I didn’t bore anyone and I hope even more that this was able to help someone, if only a little bit.

*Note: Chapter Five of Castellan Dreams: the Firebird’s Daughter is now available, if anyone is interested.

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