We’re looking at Setting this week. When selecting settings, we’re looking for places (i) that affect the character, (ii) that affect the plot, (iii) that we haven’t experienced before, (iv) that we want to experience, (v) that are believable, and (vi) that are optimally placed in time.
1. Our human-rights-attorney story:
When the money runs out before the case against his transgender partner is over, a human rights lawyer joins a prestigious and wealthy law firm not knowing that the managing partner is the devil behind the lawsuit.
No settings immediately come to mind, so I’m going to start with the time element, and check out our friend Wikipedia. In particular, the timeline for LGBT history, which goes back as far as practically 10,000 BC. In 1395, there’s mention of a transvestite prostitute arrested for crossdressing in London. In 1992, Massachusetts elected the first known transgender state legislator in America. There’s also a page on LGBT social movements. In Germany, around 1800, there was a movement that included the first use of “outing” as a political strategy.
But I think I’m drawn to 1952 -1957, downtown Los Angeles, when, according to Wikipedia, “ONE, Inc., the first public homosexual organization in the U.S” was formed. The company was financially backed by “the wealthy transsexual man Reed Erickson.” It distributed a couple LGBT magazines. And it was a party in the first case in which the US Supreme Court “explicitly ruled on homosexuality.” Lots of story material going on here. I think we’ve found our setting.
Does the setting affect the character? Probably. I’m sure it wasn’t fun to be transgender or to have a transgender partner in the 1950s. 1957 was the year Leave it to Beaver first aired.
Does the setting affect the plot? Probably. We’d have to do more research, but with the fodder we’ve got so far, I’m willing to bet there’s some plot-affecting stuff to be found.
Have we experienced this setting before? Do we want to? I haven’t experienced this setting or this context, and I think it could be very interesting. I’m reminded of The Normal Heart and Dallas Buyer’s Club.
Is it believable? Sure. But I think the real question would be: do we want to have our own attorney, devil attorney, and transgender partner against this backdrop of One, Inc.–perhaps our characters are customers, so to speak, of the company. Or do we want to focus on the real characters and change our synopsis to fit the real story? Lots of possibility here. But, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll continue with our old synopsis as much as possible.
The page on the court case says that “By protecting ONE, the Supreme Court facilitated the flourishing of a gay and lesbian culture and a sense of community at the same time as the federal government was purging homosexuals from its ranks.”
So, possible new synopsis:
Set in the mid 1950’s, against the backdrop of the first US Supreme Court case to affirm gay rights, a human rights lawyer joins a wealthy Los Angeles law firm in order to fund his transgender partner’s wrongful termination suit against the federal government, not knowing that the firm’s managing partner is a devil intent on sabotaging the lawsuit.
Not bad, if I do say so myself.
2. Our diamond bullets story:
When his brother’s gang develops a diamond bullet that can penetrate bulletproof vests, a scholarship student must decide whether to help his brother avenge the death of their gang-leader father or protect the father of his girlfriend, the Police Commissioner of New York City.
Well, our setting seems already picked out for us: New York City.
Is it believable? Sure, but it’s also pretty top-drawer, very been-there-done-that. So…
Someone told me the other day that there are gangs in the Pacific Northwest. This was news to me… which means it’s a setting we haven’t experienced before. And how do gangs in the Pacific Northwest differ from NY or LA? I’m intrigued, which translates into a setting I might want to experience.
Good, gangs in the Northwest it is. Now… Seattle or Portland? Or some place smaller?
Googling “gangs in the pacific northwest” comes up with a surprising amount of resources, including a Seattle Times article about gangs in small-town central Washington–in Grant County, not a single recognizable city in the area.
Ooh, Washington is a stand-your-ground state; no duty to retreat in the face of a threat–that’s some good fodder that could affect our plot.
And they make their own bullets there–I remember reading on Patricia Briggs’ website that her husband cast silver bullets to show the naysayers it could be done, and they live in the Tri-Cities, which is close enough to Grant County. Where our small-town Washington gang members are going to get diamonds for bullets, I have no idea, but… I’m sure we can come up with something. Six degrees of Kevin Bacon (or a diamond smuggler) and all that.
Our private-school-scholarship-kid main character might have to travel to a bigger city, say Spokane or Seattle or the Tri-Cities, to go to school, but that’s okay. That could provide the crucible, why the gang is relying on him to avenge Dad. He has better access to the target.
So is it believable? We might be pushing it a bit, but if we can really ground the setting and the diamonds for the diamond bullets in some specific details, that’ll help.
What about the time period? Eh… I’m thinking now, contemporary. We might find something in our research of northwest gangs that places it in history to better effect, but to start with, I say we just place it in the now.
So, new synopsis:
When his brother’s Pacific Northwest gang develops a diamond bullet that can penetrate bulletproof vests, a scholarship student must decide whether to help his brother avenge the death of their gang-leader father or protect the father of his girlfriend, the Yakima, Washington Chief of Police.
Well, that’s it for me! How about you? Where might you place these stories? And what fantastic, fresh settings are you using in your own stories? Tell us in the comments!
UP NEXT, ON MONDAY
It’s a new month, people! We’re moving on to Plot, and on Monday we’ll start to get the creative juices flowing by looking at conflict, suspense and the like. See you then!
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