Magic Lands

Every year, our community theatre has one huge weekend where every cast member, parents, grandparents, children, and even some friends come help us make major changes. For this year’s production of Willy Wonka, this weekend was that weekend, when we move from our practice “stage” (an elementary school gym floor) to the real stage, at the district’s high school. Everything must be moved… from the set pieces to props to lumber and screws, nails and hinges.

This year, the move took 50 people, 2 box trucks, 1 pickup with a trailer, several pick-up trucks, and two trips. In just over an hour. We work well as a team, and in the weeks before the move, much organization takes place to ensure it can be done as quickly and efficiently as possibly.

The move is the easy part. From there, set construction begins. While we already have several key set pieces built, the major set work can not be done until after the move. For those of you unfamiliar with our shows, our sets our amazing. They take a lot of man-hours to engineer and design, and even more to build. We have been told that it would be worth the $10 ticket price just to see the sets.

This weekend, a 2-story platform was built, complete with stairs and an elevator. A footbridge was re-purposed from another show to fit our needs for this one, this time 4 feet taller with a staircase on either side. A chocolate river was constructed to run under the bridge (and a set of stairs). Houses and rooms were built on wheels so they could easily be moved on and off stage.

While all of this was going on, others were painting and dressing what was already constructed. People worked in shifts ranging from 4 hours to 12 Saturday and Sunday. This will continue, on a smaller scale, until Wednesday, when the majority of it will be done. Thursday, we are back to rehearsals.

As I sat and watched how quickly the sets were built, using well-designed plans, complete with pictures and measurements, I realized the importance of fully creating a setting before any real work begins.

Last week, I wrote a scene for my WIP that I absolutely loved. It was an emotional scene where the hero, Mac, was comparing his new home, a small, run-down fixer-upper, to his old home, an elegant McMansion. He was reflecting on how far he had come—how he had what he wanted, not what his ex-wife had wanted, a house he could make his home.

I was proud of the scene. It made me feel like I was finally getting somewhere, finally moving forward in the story.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to use it.

I am in the early chapters, just getting started on this story. I have all of my character profiles done (all seventy-five pages of them)and I have about half the book outlined, scene by scene.

Unfortunately, I haven’t taken the time to truly develop the setting. I was planning on doing that in tandem with writing.

An hour after I wrote the first chapter, I was researching the areas for my setting. I suddenly realized it wouldn’t work. In order to accommodate some of the essential elements of my story, I need to move the setting a few hundred miles south.

Here’s the problem—the style of home changes drastically by making that move. So, all of the comparisons go out the window. Oops.

That was obviously my fault. I knew I needed to develop the settings before I wrote too much. But I wanted to write, and short stories were no longer cutting it. So I wrote.

Unfortunately, I have hit the point where I can’t write any more until I have the settings fully developed. And now I am overwhelmed.

With my first book, I used a real city, one I was familiar with. I had very little to plan.

This time, I am using a fictional beach town, set in a real state. I am thrilled with the flexibility, but worried that I will take it too far and lose the realism.

I have done a lot of research, and I am comfortable with the area I have chosen. I have information on the typical real-estate, popular trends, etc.

Here is my challenge: how much can I create, and how much needs to be real? At what point do I cross the line from “creative license” to Willy Wonka’s “Magic Lands,” which wouldn’t be a great fit for my contemporary romance.

In other words, how do you make it real, believable, and interesting, without taking it too far and over the top?

I spent the end of last week working on developing the various settings, and will do the same this week as much as I can (Pookie has vacation, so it is harder for me to get much done). I think I have a good balance, but I would love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

How do you create your settings? How much do you plan, and how much do you create as you go? How do you keep your settings believable? Doesn’t ‘Magic Lands’ sound like a fun place to visit?

About Susi Borath

Susi Borath finds time to write between freelance marketing jobs, minor league baseball games, creating new cookie recipes, and juggling more laundry than any two people should be able to produce. You can find more about her at or follow @susiborath on Twitter.
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8 Responses to Magic Lands

  1. Kaye Peters says:

    I need a vacation and “magic lands” sounds good to me.

    I usually make up a place based on somewhere I know very well. For some reason saying that a particular book takes place in an actual place scared me. I would be waiting for someone to catch something I didn’t research enough and call me out.

    For the book I’m working on I get to make up two worlds different from ours, but with some similarities so its a little familiar. I like the freedom I have with paranormal/fantasy because no one can question settings and believability, they can only question my writing abilities to be able to do justice to the settings. I can handle that speculation because sometimes I even question myself if I can do this particular story justice.

    • Savana Quinn says:

      I write my NaNo novel based on a real city, and, while it was nice to have a real place on which to base things, I worried the whole time. I hadn’t been to the city in a few years, and I worried about the changes made since then. I knew there were major changes to roadways and whatnot as the city rapidly expanded, and I was afraid of referring to a street that was no longer there. It is something tend to think I will avoid in the future. 🙂

  2. Lisa says:

    I disagree that you have to fully create the setting before the magic begins. You need to have done the research. You need to know what fits and what doesn’t, but in fiction as on the stage you don’t have to be realistic. Why can’t McMansion be an export from another location? There are plenty of examples all over the country of people who wanted castles and had them imported stone by stone from Europe. Why can’t a dream home be something that’s slightly out of place in the community? I’m not saying break the rules so that everything is imagined or unbelievable, but ground the imaginary with the real. Put the perfect home, in all its crumbling glory, on the boardwalk that locals recognize. When I direct shows, I love when designers bring me pictures of real places and those pictures then somehow merge together to create reality as I picture it. Isn’t that the job of a writer?

    • Savana Quinn says:

      I can see where you are coming from, and I agree to a point. I can do a lot of writing without having a hard and fast setting nailed down. Still, I made a major change to my setting, so the style houses changed as a result of the change in climate. To put the original house I had described in the new setting would not make sense. (I am keeping the “new” house–the ranch, since it is realistic anywhere.)

      I will continue to develop my setting as I write, but I think it was important to have at least a general idea of setting before I wrote a scene that was completely dependent on setting. While I won’t go as in-depth as I did with the characters, I do think I needed more than I had.

  3. For my current novel I’m using two worlds with the same overall geography as Earth. I think therein lies the heart of the matter. You can take general settings, such as a main street and the layout of the shops, from your experience of small towns as a whole. Then you can pick up on smaller details, but use them sparingly. The trick is to only give the reader as much detail as they need in order to create the setting in their mind. Nothing throws you off more than to have the setting arranged just so in your head and then get given a detail which turns it all on its head.

    I tend to concentrate on the action when I write the story. Now I’m in the editing phase (having just completed my first draft, YEE-HA!! 😀 ) and I’m having to put in details like setting and make sure everything flows. Of course, the scene you referred to revolved around the setting. Those would generally be better left until the setting was in place…

    • Savana Quinn says:

      Congrats on finishing your first draft! 🙂

      I prefer to concentrate on the action as I write as well. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to allow myself to get caught up on the details. I find that If I have some ideas set up, I maintain consistency throughout the story. If I do not, I will get caught up on the details and spend too much time focus on that when drafting. It ends up throwing me off, because it breaks the flow of my writing.

      I think you have a good point as far a balance goes. It is important to give enough details on setting to paint a strong picture while still leaving something to the imagination of the reader.

  4. Pingback: » Aah, Vacation… Savana Quinn

  5. Pingback: » Aah, Vacation… Susan Borath

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