World Building: Picking and establishing time period
"Picture it, Sicily 1922..." - Sophia, The Golden Girls
Some of you may be too young to know this iconic show from that ran from 1985 to 1992, but trust me it is worth catching a few episodes on reruns or on your favorite streaming platforms. Sophia, the eldest of the four ladies, always started off her life lesson stories the same by establishing the world the story was being told from with two things - location and TIME. Whether the world is a fantastical creation from my own mind or an actual place, I find that time period dictates everything from the clothes my characters wear, to the homes they live in, to the jobs they have and so much more. Think about the differences in just America being a country? If I want to tell the story of a Native American hunting buffalo in the wild, I could not set my story in 2000, unless I have an alternate history story line. Because it is such a deciding factor on everything else it is the first thing I try to lock in when creating the worlds or any story I write.
When deciding on a time period for a story, I think about the list above first. So many of things above not only set the time period and can be used to solidify the setting, but also to help show what drives your hero and creates your villain/protagonist. We will talk more about that in a future blog post on characterization. I am going to go through my process of collecting and using research to create the worlds around my characters.
I usually get a story idea from a single scene I have envisioned in my mind with a character (usually my protagonist) and then I zoom out in my head to take in everything around my character. Here is an example of how I determined the time period for Canton Ghost Town. I was reading a book about the Green River Killer and had this picture of a female ghost yelling at her former partner that if he kept pulling her body from the water he was going to ... well let's just say it wouldn't be pretty. When I zoomed out to see what my ghost was wearing, what her partner was wearing, what their cars looked like, and what kind of technology I wanted them having access to, I knew exactly what time period I wanted them in: The late 1970's!