Sunday, September 3, 2017

Atmosphere and Ecological Constructs / Part One

There has been a lot of conversations lately about crafting ecologies or places where our characters exist. And while this may sound like a familiar conversation, it is also no surprise because of the massive push to discuss "world building" as a means to write epic fantasy or sci-fi stories. But it feels like the concept of atmosphere and ecological emersion is less about world-building and more about finding a tool that is useful in creative writing, pushing setting from a static archetype to something more meaningful and tangible. In a world of virtual immersions and screen time, it is relevant to talk about stories that emphasize place and atmosphere. As we disconnect through technology, writers seem to be finding ways to reconnect in fiction. 

This concept also comes from significant and overwhelmingly profile landscapes from Tolkien, Herbert, and Martin. These epic sagas have created more than just setting to cast characters, but the setting themselves (Game of Thrones and Dune) become active and significant protagonists in terms of the stories and the development. Other worlds come from Star Wars, Star Trek, and other expandable settings that are being developed. What has also given rise to this kind of world building is the rise of the expanded TV series created and shaped by on-demand television binge watching. It has allowed cinema to move into a greater arc of storytelling and allow for expandable ideas through character and platform.  

Having said all that it is this sense of ecology and atmosphere that I've been hearing about more than "world building." To me, world building is based on the construction of things that aren't relatable at all to a common narrative. In fact, it is the burden of the world builder to create a bridge between the possible and the impossible. But to connect atmosphere and ecology to the concept of setting and atmosphere is less grandiose and more about pushing on a literary element that enhances the experience. It is writers like Jon Krakauer and Into Thin Air that connects the complete epic moment of gaining the summit of Everest and being so close to death, that it really doesn't matter. The balance between the world that is vastly different and the characters in it comes with vivid and compelling stories. In fact, I haven't written a fictional scuba diving piece because I struggle to connect the story with this uniquely remote and often isolating place. Nonfiction seems to show better in terms of writing about underwater, but without dialog, without grounding, this is a hard place to write for me. 

It is classic writing like Jack London, Melville, and Steinbeck that I think of these elements as being an important narrative quality. Cannery Row is not a whole new world, but there are moments that are stunning and vivid and so close to my own that it makes me awe. When Doc finds the dead girl in the rocks, it is a stunning literary element of the shore and what it can reveal. 

When and how do atmosphere and ecology evolve into a type of antagonist? In simple terms, does a war, or the sea (Moby Dick), or the jungle (Heart of Darkness) become an extension of the antagonist? Or can it be the antagonist alone? Or perhaps it was always the antagonist by design. How do these concepts arrive in stories and how does nature, while always described as an archetype, become more than a theme and plot construct and move into something more dominant in a novel, or in a selection of stories. 

"Setting" can be a backdrop, but with the discussions and workshop topics that cover world-building and ecology, it makes sense that perhaps "setting" is evolving from the backdrop of the production to a more significant and complicated element in creative writing. And in an emerging generation of writers and thinkers who have embraced "An Inconvenient Truth", recycling, and ecological preservation of the planet, it makes sense that atmosphere and environment would also mean more than fancy background curtains, but something that is coming, shaping their stories, and even acting out against their characters as a harbinger of change, conflict, and resolution of their dying world.  

Over a series of articles, I want to work out some of the setting-to-antagonist ideas that are out there and map them. It will be interesting to see where they go and why we should consider putting more value into them.

If you have any suggestions or connections and want to share, please feel free to post in the comment section. Feedback is always welcome.  

Bachelard, Gaston. The poetics of space. Vol. 330. Beacon Press, 1994.


Post a Comment