Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Presto-Chango of SFF

Don't really remember what I was thinking.
Can't explain myself.
Too lazy to come up with something better.

I'm writing a new book, and I spent some time trying to plot everything out a few weeks ago. I was poring over basic plot arc guides (I really like the ones Jami Gold mentions here), and I was studying the plots of some of my favorite books and generally wracking my brain to come up with a plot that is awesome, action packed, and at least a little bit original.

That was when I noticed: Every single fantasy or sci fi book starts in one location and then suddenly transfers to another location for the majority of the action.

Just for example:

  • The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe: Starts in England, moves to Narnia (Ahhhh, Narnia. I would so like to visit some day.)
  • Ender's Game: Starts on earth at Ender Wiggin's home, moves to the Battlestation.
  • Sabriel: Starts in a boarding school in a mostly non-magical land, moves to the Old Kingdom (full of formerly dead things, a talking cat, and, in general, a ton of things that want to kill Sabriel. Don't worry. She gets through it.)
  • The Coldest Girl in Coldtown: Starts in a house full of dead bodies, sucked dry by vampires, and leads to a road trip for a girl, a boy who wants to suck her blood (but isn't quite a vampire yet), and an mentally insane, powerful vampire.
  • Dune: Starts on the beautiful, lush planet of Caladan, moves to the hostile, bone-dry planet of Arrakis.
  • Harry Potter: Starts off with those deadly dull Dursleys in their perfect little suburban haven and moves to the awesomeness of Hogwarts.

You might be thinking to yourself, "Well, that's just a coincidence. She's just picking the wrong books." But, seriously, EVERY SINGLE SFF book I could think of started in one place and then pretty quickly moved to another. I got up and started looking through the books on my bookshelf, and I couldn't find an exception.

I will admit that I did come up with one exception, but it honestly took me DAYS to come up with this (spoilers lie ahead):

  • Cinder: a Cinderella retelling of an outcast, cyborg Cinderella and her fight against the evil, mind-controlling Queen from the moon.
And I'm not even positive Cinder counts. Cinder takes place in the capital city of New Beijing. At first Cinder's at home, getting used and abused as a maid or whatever. Then she gets booted out of the house (setting change!) and trapped in a lab where she's to be used as a guinea pig. But then she gets back home by the second half of the book, so I'd say Cinder's living at home for the majority of the plot/action. So, technically, it doesn't fit my original premise of the majority of the action taking place somewhere other than the starting location, but it still has an important setting change.

And seriously, guys, that was it!

Oh, okay. I did have one friend come up with: 1984 and Farenheit 451. I remember 1984 has a few different settings, but I suppose the majority of the book takes place in the MC's normal city life. And, anyway, both of those books are just horribly depressing. That has nothing to do with setting. It's merely an observation that for some inexplicable reason makes me discount all observations about the books. I mean, I have no desire to write a super-depressing book, and apparently that's what a lack of setting change gets you. (Nope. Don't bring logic into it. I don't want to hear it.)

And yet, I don't think I'm going to have any major setting changes in the new book. So wish me luck. Apparently I'll need it.


  1. I guess 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 are dystopian rather than pure sci-fi or fantasy; the others have elements of dystopia but they combine it with more SFF elements, perhaps? So the setting change is necessary to introduce the magic or something.

    You're probably right. Looking at my own books, particularly the first book in my Death and Fairies series, it starts in a pub in the human world with the protagonist getting incredibly drunk, and then moves to the fairy world, where 95% of the rest of the book takes place. (Other books in the series don't, though.) I think it's particularly a factor in urban fantasy, too: we start somewhere 'familiar' to ground us in the setting, and then move somewhere unfamiliar.

    1. Good point about 1984/F 451 being more Dystopian than SFF.

      And it does seem like the change up of scenery is especially important in the first book in a series (less important after the intro to the new world). The Fever Series (Karen Marie Moning) is urban fantasy and the first book starts at the MC's comfy home in Georgia, then comes the presto chango and the rest of the series takes place in fairy-haunted Ireland.

      I think it's familiar vs. unfamiliar but it's also comfortable vs uncomfortable. The character is happy and comfy. Then the change up happens, her whole world is thrown out of whack, and we've got a fun book!