My NaNoWriMo: the setting

In my previous post, I explained where the story I’ll be writing for this year’s NaNoWriMo came from. In this post (written a bit later than planned due to real life getting in the way), I’ll tell you about the setting and background to my story, and where the elements of it came from.

For the purposes of the core theme – determining what constitues justice in a society which doesn’t have clear fixed legal or judicial systems in place – I knew I needed a society that was recently disrupted and was either ignorant of previous judicial systems or had chosen to reject those they were familiar with. I wanted a certain degree of isolation to give my characters the opportunity to work things out for themselves rather than have a system to adopt – or a potential neighbour to invade them. So my main setting is an island penal colony, where most of the inhabitants are convicts; the isolation comes from a magical plague that saw the governor and his staff flee the island and put it under quarantine to prevent spread of the plague.

This leaves the island to be inhabited by a society which largely distrusts the judicial system that brought them to the island, and with characters from different backgrounds – convicts, the children of convicts, servants and soldiers left behind – there are a variety of opinions on how justice should work and indeed how important it is.

For a while, several of my stories have involved early firearms. This started when I was reading the Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell – which I enjoyed a lot (not to mention the TV adaptations with the brilliant Sean Bean). I don’t like having advanced firearms with magazines and so on allowing quick-fire – that makes the fighting impersonal and too modern for my tastes – but the need to reload after each shot, the requirment of having access to dry gunpowder, that I like. It slows gun battles down and puts more emphasis on the speed and experience of the fighters. It allows other weapons, melee weapons, to come into play.

So for this story, I’m including muskets and cannon. This puts it more closely in Earth’s period of modern colonisation, where penal colonies were set up by British, French and Spanish forces across the globe as a means of securing new lands and removing criminals from the general population to somewhere they might be more profitable. That fits nicely for the story I’m writing – giving me an excuse to set it on an island far from other human societies.

With the governor having fled the island, he’d have attempted to remove the firearms from the remaining population made up largely of criminals, in order that regaining control of the island at a later date is without too much opposition. So he has destroyed the cannon and taken most of the rest – leaving firearms and munitions difficult to find (though a few soldiers left behind due to having contracted the plague, and some hidden or forgotten stores, mean the island is not without them entirely).

This gives me the opportunity to give the antagonists weaponry that is beyond what the protagonists have access to, making defeating them more dangerous and more of a challenge. It means I can still include guns as an element, without them being stupidly overpowered, and I can use them as an indicator of the balance of power. Plus I can have some tense gun battles in skirmish order around the buildings of the settlement (one of my favourite things in Sharpe). Fun times!

So that’s the setting – an isolated penal colony, abandoned by the authorities because of fear of the plague, populated by convicts, former soldiers and servants, by people who have never held real power or had to make important decisions that affect a lot of people, trying to form a society and survive in a very different world to what they have been used to.

The setting also gives the opportunity to expand in the future. Assuming this story works, I can explore what happens to the governor and his staff once he’s left the island and sailed home, carrying the plague with them, and hos this changes the society or challenges these characters as a result. I can look later, at how the island’s inhabitants deal with the eventual return of the governor (or his successor) to reclaim the island. So that might happen later to.

Later today and for the next week, I’ll look at each of the characters I have so far developed – who they are, their role in the story, their arc, and how I developed them.

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