You’ve always been put under the role of Resident Villain in your city, and you take your job of fighting the “good guys” seriously even though you don’t have any powers of your own. Even while antagonized, you make friends with the citizens and have a connection to the city’s Superhero.
Write what happens when a real supervillain almost kills the hero, and you’re forced to fight for your city instead.
You are a sentient AI that was tasked with “training humans how to defend against evil AIs”. However, you only realized you took it too far after your creator’s grand daughter hacked in and input a command to stop you.
As a kid you used to let your ice cream melt and tell yourself it was the medicine that could cure anything and everything before drinking it. Now in your 20’s, you’re stuck in your hospital bed waiting for the death coming from a rare cancer. Your last meal request was a bowl of ice cream. Explain to your parents and the doctors how you managed to survive a cureless cancer.
The setting or environment in which our stories take place can have a huge effect on how our readers view characters or scenes. Young Writers Program participant Asher M. is here with us today to share how to make the most out of this often overlooked aspect of storytelling:
Something I’ve seen many writers struggle with is unique plots. It seems like every story has already been written. As a writer, you may see a three-act novel with the same subsections every single book seems to follow. As a reader, do you see it the same way? I doubt it.
For this explanation, we’ll be using a simple example plot:
Act 1: Ellie is a normal kid in middle school. One day, her principal (who’s secretly a wizard) tells her she has to go defeat the evil wizard Wright Erz Blok. After some deliberation, Ellie goes with her two closest friends on an adventure to fight Wright Erz Blok.
Act 2: The group set off on their trip with the help of a magical map. They gain tools from various mentors as they leave, and gain skills by defeating lesser villains as they get closer to Wright Erz Blok.
Act 3: The heroes almost fail, but manage to defeat Wright Erz Blok for good. They come back to school and receive a hero’s welcome.
So, how would your environment influence this story? I’ll break it down. Your environment has three main influences on your writing: character, pacing, and story.
Character encompasses the personality, mannerisms, and speaking style of each character. In our example, we have four important characters: Ellie, her two friends, and Wright Erz Blok. Your social environment influences character the most. A social person might find themselves pulling qualities from their friends for their characters, while an introvert may pull more qualities from themselves. Someone with positive social influences may give Ellie’s friends more individual characteristics and story arcs, while someone with negative social influences might diminish them into being supportive characters.
Pay attention to how you interact with others. It shows up on the page.
Pacing is the speed at which different plot points happen. In our example, we have our three acts, each with three components. Your physical environment influences pacing the most. If you’re in middle school or were in middle school recently, you know a lot about middle school. You’d be pretty good at stretching out Act 1 by adding details about daily middle school life. If you’re writing in a busy space, like a coffee shop, you might find yourself stretching out descriptions of people or environments as you observe the environment’s intricacies. Notice how your physical environment inspires your writing, and switch it up if things are feeling stagnant.
Story is anything and everything happening outside of the plot’s skeleton. Your life experience influences the story the most. Writers draw from their own life experiences to develop their stories. Ellie’s relationship with any siblings she has would influence whether they’re part of her motivation to fight evil. Wright Erz Blok’s motivation for committing evil deeds shapes the audience’s idea of whether they’re empathetic. If Ellie and co. are journeying through a forest, the types of people they encounter will be very different than if they’re traveling across an ocean. Every single aspect of motivations, setting, and relationship change based on the author’s own experiences.
When writing, consciously make the choice to allow your environment to influence how you write. If you have the option to, change physical environments regularly and think from someone else’s point of view to give yourself a chance to write with fresh senses. And don’t be afraid to recycle plots. Your experience and your environment make every story unique.
Don’t hold back, my friend. You have endless stories inside you.
Asher M. is an avid fan of classical authors, despite not writing anything in their style. He’s currently working on his first novel, focused on betrayal and growth, in a series about magic, politics, and adventure. When he’s not writing novels or op-eds, you can find him doodling in his many sketchbooks or painting on his bedroom walls. He hopes to double major in English and Psychology, with plans to become a neuroscientist who writes on the side.
Imagine that you’re the angel in charge of the Apocalypse. For millions of years, you’ve known the who, what, when, where of the end of the universe. And then three days before the beginning of Armageddon, the antichrist was killed in a hit and run.