The Setting as a Character

The Setting as a Character

One characteristic of epic fantasy is the scale of its setting. Epic tales take place in vast worlds, full of interesting cities, cultures and landmarks. Somehow, the characters become aware of these details throughout their adventure and it becomes clear that the world is active even when the characters aren’t present. Rebellions may take place in other countries. Festivals may be interrupted by issues unrelated to the plot, and in this manner does the world of an epic fantasy become a character in the story.

It is the goal of every writer to provide enough interesting detail to fully-flesh the world they’ve created. We want to immerse the reader in the setting until it leaps off the page, becoming a realm all its own. My co-author and I had all these goals in mind when we created the dimension-hopping island on which Island of Lost Forevers and its sequels take place.

Building any world, no matter how small, takes a great deal of time and effort. There are a lot of considerations, from the physical makeup of the landscape, to the customs of the people who populate it. We were lucky that we only needed to create a chunk of a world, a remnant, and that allowed us to focus our efforts on a small geographic area. The primary landmarks of the island are it’s tall mountain, its majestic waterfall and its tropical climate. But the heart of the island is the bathhouse, carved out of the slope of the mountain at the base of the waterfall.

The bathhouse was our first creation and we built the island around it. All together, they form a cosmic five-star resort. It needed breath-taking views, stunning beaches, and a fancy dining room. But we wanted to preserve the soul of the bathhouse concept. We carefully drew attention to the zen-like aspects the building; the public bathing rooms, the hot springs, and the extensive garden. From there we grew outward, developing the people associated with the bathhouse. Of course the workers had to come from somewhere, and thus was born the village which shares the renown bathhouse’s island.

Though the island has obvious Asian (and thus Earthly) overtones, we also wanted it to possess an otherworldly feel. While the island ruler and most of his subjects may have easily come from Earth, the bulk of the bathhouse’s guests obviously come from other worlds. One of the most entertaining aspects of writing the book was coming up with fantastic characters to make cameo appearances. And while these encounters are delightfully exciting for our protagonists, they’re mundane occurrences for the people who live and work on our island.

From the beginning, the island played an important role in our story. Its appearance is the catalyst for our adventure. As our two protagonists search for the secrets the island brought with it, they paint a tapestry of the island’s characteristics. Is it sinister? Is it sentient? As the characters search for the answers to these questions, we were able to take the concept of setting as a character one step further. It’s obvious the island possesses some kind of awareness. It influences the people who inhabit it. As time goes on, it even seems to form opinions about the characters and their actions.

The way various characters interact with the island becomes central to the plot. At first they want to explore it, but eventually they want to escape it. Overall, it was fun to allow our setting to grow a mind of its own. It added extra emotional and philosophical levels to the plot, all the while keeping us on our toes. We tried to give the island a prominent place in the story, to make it clear from the beginning our setting also served the role of character. To that end, we re-wrote the beginning to give the island pride of place. After all, what better way to start an epic adventure than with the appearance of a mysterious island out of nowhere?

When we sat down to start the sequel, I already knew I wanted to expand on the island’s history and culture. And not just because it was one of the primary requests of our readers. Each story allows only so much room for exposition before you run the risk of bogging it down. Returning to the island presented the perfect opportunity to expand upon elements that were left out of the first book, simply because they weren’t relevant to the original plot. If you’re interested in learning more about the island’s history and culture, check out Crossroads of Frozen Eternity. And if you haven’t already, check out its predecessor, Island of Lost Forevers.

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