The Places You Want To Walk

I’ve been thinking about settings recently. Not so much the specific, scene-level settings — although those are part of it — but more about the bigger, broader setting of stories as a whole. And, well, about one in particular…

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before that many of the stories I have lurking in the back of my mind, waiting (im)patiently for their chance to be come into being, are fantasy. Well, settings for fantasy stories need to have something special and original about them. Whether that “special something” is the location itself (an African-based kingdom, say) or something inherent to the world/society (Sanderson’s Mistborn series, for example), the days of just plunking a story down in a rural England analogue are long, long gone.

So, the story I’m thinking about writing next has a cool setting…but it’s one that’s still completely undeveloped. I want (and need) to do some research, as well as get some real-world inspiration. I want to get my brain and body thinking and feeling it before I sit down to actually write about it.

Okay, that sounds great…what’s the damned problem? I hear you ask…

It’ll kill me.

No, really — going the places I want/need for that research and inspiration is likely to have some fairly uncomfortable side effects.

Dammit, why does the real world have to intrude all the time?

Now, I’m a big believer in the fact that a story’s setting — both the physical world, and the socio-cultural milieu — needs to be real to the writer. Being able to see it is just not enough. You have to also hear and smell and taste it. You also have to know how it drives its inhabitants, and how it affects the story, before you can really get your characters and details right.

For me, that means a setting has to be based — at least partly — on places I’ve been, and/or on things I’ve seen and done. And, yes, that applies just as much to sci-fi and fantasy as it does to any other genre. Hell, even the closed, claustrophobic world of poverty and exploitation of my current sci-fi stories is very much based on real places I know…

Okay, so now to tie that all together — that story I want to write? It’s set in an analogue of the Silk Road. The sad part is that, as much as I might want to, it is just not realistic for me to travel the Silk Road from one end to the other at present. Could I pull it off? Probably…but, holy shit, even for me that would be ratcheting up the danger and risk-taking to fairly silly levels.

That being said, I still want to do it. I want to do it pretty badly. I want to stand in the mountain passes of Pakistan, I want to visit the old trading cities in Iran, I want to skirt the edges of the Taklamakan Desert. Hell, I want to take a side-trip up to Lake Baikal, I want to see the mountains between the Black and Caspian seas, I want to walk on the endless steppes…

Yes, I can (and probably will) make up my own fantasy versions thereof, based on areas I’ve already been, but it’s not the same thing. Not the same thing at all.

Write what you know, they say.

Now, look…I can write (firsthand) about valleys and mountains that haven’t seen a human foot in centuries. I can write about cities and slums and street markets. I can write about forests where you can’t see two feet in front of you, and about rivers and gorges and canyons.  I can write, even, about camping on the edge of the world, and sailing off it.  But it’s not enough.

It’s never enough, by the way.

The best part of being a storyteller is also the worst: There’s always more to see, and to do. There’s always more to explore and experience. In the end, there’s always another adventure…

2 thoughts on “The Places You Want To Walk

  1. Sadah June 15, 2018 / 9:57 am

    This is beautiful.


  2. Influencing Angel June 15, 2018 / 8:45 pm

    Wow i really enjoyed reading this..looking forward to more


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