Category Archives: setting

World Building


As a novelist I am very aware of the importance of setting.  It is an essential part of of telling a story, to be able to set the stage upon which the characters will act out the plot.  The setting pictured here is one created for my family’s on-going D&D Role-playing set in the campaign world of Eberron, here on the continent of Xendrick which was long ago ruled by magical giants.  It is built around details.  There are in this picture three elements that are actually aquarium decorations (the two jewel-eyed skulls and the Egyptian ruin construct in the background).  The silver skull and the Princess Jasmine figure come from gumball vending machines (Jasmine comes from a vending machine in the hotel lobby in Anaheim when we took the kids to Disneyland).  The thatch-roofed house in the background is from my manic urge to create cardboard castles.  The skeleton-faced statue came out of a box of cheap plastic toys from Dollar Tree that Grandpa bought for my eldest son back in 1998.  If there is any kind of point to this paragraph, it is that this detail-rich setting photo is created with unusual parts, parts that lots of people would not think to include in the world-building process.


If I have any claim at all to a talent for creating a good setting, it comes from my creative juxtaposition of widely disparate objects.  (In English, it means I like to stick weird stuff together in the same place.)  That, of course, is the very definition of surrealism.  Making the bizarre seem natural and right.  It is how you create a science fiction setting, a fantasy novel setting, and even a setting for a hometown novel set in the little Iowa town I grew up in during the 60’s and 70’s.  (You might not fully believe me yet, as I have not published more than one of my hometown novels, but I do have a hometown setting made of a hidden fairy kingdom, a haunted house, a mad scientist’s laboratory, a witch’s hovel, a mysterious sea captain’s house, a house haunted by rumors of werewolves, and a connection to the dream lands that often lets other-worldly clowns wander our streets.)  (That last now holds the record as the second-longest parenthetic expression I have ever used in my writing.)


Of course, setting by itself is meaningless.  It must be interactive with the characters that inhabit it.  As the dragon crashes through the castle wall behind them, Princess Aurora and her little mechanical body guard, Clockwerky, are not even facing it.  Are they ignoring it because they are actually quite stupid?  Or since it seems to be heading out of the scene to stage left, are they simply assuming it has to be somebody else’s problem?  Either way the setting and the characters don’t mesh in a way that furthers the actual story… at least, not without a lot of additional explanation.

So, can I explain in any sort of a simple fashion how this 500 word treatise on setting is to be understood?  Yes.  Very simply, settings are built of details… lots of details.  And settings and characters have to work together.  Here endeth the lesson.


Mervin the Minotaur and Barrabas the Half-Ogre each roll a natural 20 to double-slay the dire elephant that was threatening princess Jasmine, while in the background, Oneorb the Cyclops rolls a 1 and bashes himself in the head.

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Filed under Dungeons and Dragons, humor, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney, playing with toys, setting, surrealism

Imaginary Worlds

I generally fall into the science fiction & fantasy category as a writer.  I like to connect my stories to the home town I grew up in.  It is a place called Rowan, a tiny farm town in North Central Iowa.  In my fiction I call it Norwall, an anagram for Rowan with two “L’s” added, one for “Love” and one for “Laughter”.  But the stories I tell about the town, or in some way connect to the town, are all about alien invasions, lycanthropy which is the disease that causes werewolves, fairies in the Kingdom of Tellosia which is located in the farms and fields north of town, and Iowegians who were real when I knew them in real life, but have been transformed by my imagination.  So, I have to believe that Norwall, like Narnia, Pellucidar, and Middle Earth, is an imaginary world.


Imaginary worlds have a definite and important function.  In his new book, The Book of Legendary Lands, Umberto Eco puts forth the theory that imaginary worlds are basically a utopian sort of dream… the perfect place to live out the life you imagine you should be living.  (Here is a link.)  This rings fundamentally true with me.  I spent the Summer of 1976 in Middle Earth, eluding the Nazgul and helping Frodo and Sam sneak the one ring into Mordor.  Heroic tales set in an imaginary world help you to transform from the psychotically depressed youth you were with a secret so terrible (being the victim of a childhood sexual assault) that it was destroying you from the inside out, into the selfless and altruistic adult you needed to be to cope with life in a dark and frightful world.  We never truly live in the real world around us.  We live in the imaginary construct of that world that our mind creates and interprets.  I lived in other imaginary lands as well as a youth.  I visited other towns like Norwall in Winesburg, Ohio and Green Town, Illinois, k2-_dfd3bb21-60ea-4ef8-a215-7dade68464bb.v2

set in Green Town, Illinois

set in Green Town, Illinois

I roamed the stars with Ben Bova, Ursala LeGuin, and Andre Norton.  I lived on Mars with Ray Bradbury.  I found in those places the golden ideals that would become my treasure trove after a life of vicarious adventuring.  It would give my own story-telling the background and the sort of grounding in reality that only excellent examples could provide.

So here, now, is the most important thing I have to say about imaginary worlds; We live in them constantly, and probably could not live without them.  I offer this invitation now as this world grows darker two days after the Paris attacks…”Come live in my imaginary world for a time, and open up the gateways to yours so that I may also visit them.”


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Filed under humor, photo paffoonies, setting