The Setting of a Story

Recently, I watched a Western cable movie that left me thinking about two of the characters after the end credits rolled: what would happen to them in the aftermath of the bloody gunfight? Would their relationship develop? Or would he just drop her off at the nearest train station? Would they ride off into the sunset?

I took it a step further and started developing the idea – what was she like before the gunfight? What was he like afterward? Was there a Happily-Ever-After for them? And most importantly, can I write a western? Because I’m not adverse to writing about other time periods, I just prefer to stick to what I know.

I decided I could and everything seemed to be developing nicely. But then because my brain is alway going, I thought, what if I moved it to the Modern age instead? The characters would remain the same – names, details, circumstances – I would simply update it the setting.

That’s when something interesting happened: the story changed. The woman, whom I created as strong and proud of the scars she bore in the Western era, was now uncertain and needful in the Modern era; while the man went from emotional to emotionless.

Baffled by this change, I started a thinking exercise: what would the two become in, say, Ancient times? Or Medieval? Victorian? How different would they be then? Indeed, the end result was that no two stories were alike, regardless of their similarities. It’s a reflection of the times certainly (the definitions of gender norms/expectations and whatnot), but it also interesting to see how much of an impact setting has on a story. It sets the tone, determines who the characters are and then how they act and react to each other and to their surroundings. Undoubtedly, it’s an important component to any story.

But this does leave me somewhat stuck because I like the way both versions of my story flow. I might just have to write both.

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