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Thread: Place and time

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    In the mirror world

    Default Place and time

    How do you, as an author, get across a sense of place and time? It's usually a good idea if readers know where and when a story is taking place, and sometimes it might even be important to the plot. For example, when a sequence occurs which takes place in the past or (for all you sci-fi fans out there) in an alternate timeline and such, you'll obviously need to point out, "This scene takes place in so-and-so place".

    In my story, Hoenn Reborn, I'm handling this by using an efficient, but clunky and aesthetically terrible, line:

    Mahogany Town, the Johto region ~ 4:00 PM; two months before present day
    a plane ~ 11:00 AM; present day
    It distracts the reader from the story, but it's also effective as a screen break. But I would really love to use a less distracting method which meshes better into the story. And another nitpick I have is with the use of 'present day'. It's vague, but it'll have to do, since I can't use a date-stamp (who knows which year the story takes place in? It could work in the Pokemon universe's 2005, or in the future in the year 2050, or even right now in 2013).

    Your thoughts?
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  2. #2
    Kutie Pie's Avatar
    Kutie Pie is offline 桜咲くこの坂を今も上っている
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Valley of the Sun


    I usually try and plan ahead the setting before I start writing the first chapter, since chances are the story will take place in that one place the majority of the time. The time tends to usually be in the past (since I'm not a present-tense person, though I have one story that obviously takes place in the future yet is in past tense, but whatever), but when in the past I don't always have a year in mind. That's always up to the reader in those cases unless I give specific hints.

    Quote Originally Posted by Deadly.Braviary View Post
    For example, when a sequence occurs which takes place in the past or (for all you sci-fi fans out there) in an alternate timeline and such, you'll obviously need to point out, "This scene takes place in so-and-so place".
    No, you don't have to point out "this scene takes place in so-and-so place", because there's no need to word that particular sentence out. (Ha. Literal-minded.) You establish a place, and then you assume the reader will remember where everything takes place in, though it never hurts to always put that reminder every now and then in usually passing dialogue.

    I want to point this out:

    Mahogany Town, the Johto region ~ 4:00 PM; two months before present day

    a plane ~ 11:00 AM; present day
    These two remind me of the scene headings of a script, in which scripts are discouraged on this forum unless properly done. But that's not what a scene heading looks like. This is what it looks like (I might end up botching a part up, just letting you know):



    That's how you use scene transitions in a script.

    For scene breaks, it depends on how you handle it, and most shows have done this. The X-Files for example would have a time, a location, or both in the corner of the screen when the scene makes a change in the plot.

    Now this is a personal aesthetic, so if you want scene breaks like this, it's fine, you just have to do it in a way that doesn't distract the reader, as you've pointed out. If you feel it distracts the reader, then you need to have better transitions. Like if it's taking place on a plane, briefly describe the plane flying through the sky, or the character staring up at the baggage above, or staring out the window at the clouds below them or something. And if you want a time established, have them look at a watch or something.

    Does that make sense?
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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2004


    Generally it's fairly straightforward to weave this sort of thing into the narration, if it needs to be explicitly indicated at all (which is only occasionally the case). You can often get across that a scene is set in the distant past (say) simply through description, the way people talk and what they talk about, but if you see absolutely no way you can work in sufficient indication for your purposes that way, you can always just start the scene with something like "Five hundred years earlier, a man awoke with a start in his bed, breathing raggedly." Place is easier than time in this respect: "The sun was shining brightly over Littleroot Town" is considerably more natural than "Five hundred years earlier, the sun was shining brightly over Littleroot Town."

    Consider whether your reader actually needs to know exactly where or when a scene is set. If you switch to different characters doing/talking about different things, there is generally an assumption that this is going on in a different place, and not necessarily simultaneously with the previous scene, so the reader shouldn't be confused. If the details of the actual placement or time aren't important in themselves, you might just as well leave them out. And if your scene is set on a plane or something like that, it should generally be obvious to the reader that it's a plane simply from description in the scene itself, unless you're writing literally pure dialogue.
    Last edited by Dragonfree; 13th February 2013 at 3:55 PM.

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  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2013


    I'm sorry. I just feel the need too defend alternate history and say that out not sci-fi. It is in fact sub genre within the historical genre. I say this as a liver of alternate history. In regards to the actual question though I usually prefer to just set the scene by describing the place, like you did got the hoenn region, and then weave the date and time poof day onto the story somewhere if its relevant. If its not relevant I sometimes just go without our say general things like night or daytime.

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