A is for Area

ASo you’re writing a story!  You’ve got the who; you’ve got the what; now you need to pick the where.

Will it be a big place or a small one?  Depending on what happens in your tale, its primary setting could be a vast forest, a tiny village, or a large and bustling city.  It could be a forty-acre farm or a 780-square-foot house on a lot in town.  It could be one room, or a palace so large even the servants sometimes get lost.  You can use an entire country or just a small county or town within that country.  You can even hop between planets.

How will you measure it–in feet, or in miles?  As you name and consider your place and its attributes in your mind, so your characters will also.  If it is a fantasy world, perhaps it will have its own terms, and it will make them known to you.  A few familiar ones:

  • League – a measurement used in fairy tales, a league is a Middle English term meaning a distance of about three miles (roughly).
  • Furlong – about 220 yards, or the length of a good furrow (Old English).
  • Wheels – In Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, the gunslinger Roland speaks of distance in this measurement, which varies in continuity anywhere from 1.1 to 1.7 miles each.

I like the last example best, because 1) King made it up, and 2) I’m rereading the series before Hollywood completely borks it.

Strangers to this land of yours won’t know how far something is unless someone explains it to them.  You’ll need to place landmarks, so travelers may judge their progress.

Turn right at the third skull and keep going straight until you fall off the cliff. 

Image:  Jon Sullivan / Wikimedia Commons

Vast or miniscule, populated or barren, wild or cultivated, your setting is the frame for your characters.  Give it as much thought as you would them and it will serve you well.

13 thoughts on “A is for Area

  1. A reference to MST3K’s “Your Area and You?” Good, though, to be reminded of authorial responsibility in these free-for-all, hurry-up-already times. Landscape AS character also can be very effective, as in Michael McDowell’s THE ELEMENTALS, and John A. Keel’s (supposedly nonfiction) THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES. Glad I didn’t swear here, and add to that whole flustercuck.

    • Hahah, no, just couldn’t think of another A word. :)

      Speaking of, I read Keel’s Jadoo as a kid (our small-town library was full of really old-ass books, LOL) and thought that was the most bizarre thing ever.

      On Fri, Apr 1, 2016 at 6:32 AM, Graphomaniac – Elizabeth West wrote:


      • Yeah, JADOO is quite a trip. I scored a first-edition hardcover back in 2004. Met Keel very briefly at the 2003 Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant, WV. He was wearing a white suit, black shirt, orange tie, and wraparound shades—his “anti-MIB” look!

        • Oh wow, LOL.

          I’m not much into cryptozoology, though I used to be mad about stuff like that as a kid. I also used to wish aliens would land so I didn’t have to go to school!

          On Fri, Apr 1, 2016 at 11:47 PM, Graphomaniac – Elizabeth West wrote:


          • For my book BLACK LIGHT: Perspectives on Mysterious Phenomena, I dug as deeply as possible (public and private documents, 5 visits, interviews, etc.) into the Mothman business of 1966-67, and came away with a sense of anger and some shame. Ohio River Valley residents had been manipulated by parties unknown, with blueprints of local industries stolen from insurance offices, telephone surveillance, staging of anomalous aerial objects, and more. This was the height of the Cold War, with Point Pleasant and surrounds hosting many defense-oriented manufacturers. Some locals accept the espionage angle (as explaining numerous MIB reports), and even blame that for the collapse of the Silver Bridge on 15 December 1967—patently not true, since the structure was in horrible shape. My book morphed into a sociological/folkloric study of UFOs and so-called paranormal phenomena. Maybe 1% of those “investigating” cryptids are genuinely interested in solving mysteries, but most are poisoned by belief and crave proof to support these. Like the idiots on TV “hunting” ghosts, etc. Mothman probably was a large barn owl seen under unusual circumstances.

            • I did read about Mothman as a kid and honestly, that was my take on it too. And I think a lot of the UFO people are the same way. They really want it to be true, even though it’s probably not.

              As far as other cryptids, I’ve been to Loch Ness and even the visitor’s center at Drumnadrochit leans toward “nope,” though they do sort of let you decide for yourself. Bottom line, there isn’t enough food in there to support creatures of that size (which I knew before I went, of course). And Bigfoot–well, we would have found something by now. The only place on the planet we keep finding anything unknown that is larger than a mouse is the ocean.


              On Sun, Apr 3, 2016 at 12:04 AM, Graphomaniac – Elizabeth West wrote:


              • Hi Liz. I’m Kraken up—DOH! Yeah, ol’ Nessie seems pretty unlikely. The food problem would be a major aspect, as well as reproduction (assuming one creature), etc. Again, this sustains the simple, poignant fact that humans are more haunted than any house, landscape, body of water, or patch of sky.

  2. Yay A to Z challenge! Thanks for the examples of distance that you gave. I’ve been wondering for the longest time how long a league was, but have been too lazy to look it up. *shines procrastination badge*

    • You should get a procrastination trophy, LOL! ;)

      Wheels was a new one for me–I’m pretty sure SK made it up but he might have encountered it elsewhere and thought it fit. It really kind of does. Roland’s world is a very strange one.

      On Fri, Apr 1, 2016 at 6:22 PM, Graphomaniac – Elizabeth West wrote:


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