Setting or Story?

Right now, I’m taking a break between drafts of my mess-in-progress to fill some research craters in my story. I know that the most organized writers say one should do research beforehand. I actually do that, but then my characters go places and do things I hadn’t envisioned at the start. Which means another round of research, going back through books I’ve already read to find things I didn’t realize I should have taken notes on.

It makes me wonder which really comes first for me: the setting or the story.

Many of my stories ideas come from tidbits of historical accounts I’ve read. Yet once I get going, the story comes over. I think (I hope!) this is where the deeper and more universal themes start surfacing. This is the point where I go back through my sources to try to make the history fit–or at least be able to write a good Author’s Note explaining what I’ve tweaked.

I’ve heard some people say that a Regency (perhaps they meant the traditional Regency) should be a story that couldn’t possibly take place in any other setting. On the other hand, how about the transformation of Pride & Prejudice to Bridget Jones’s Diary or Emma to Clueless?

I know these reinventions don’t work for some but they do for me. I think it’s because the characters and the stories are timeless. And yet there’s more to these adaptations than just translating clothing and cultural references. The setting isn’t just a backdrop, any more than Jane Austen’s “3 or 4 families in a country village”. It’s all in how the universal story finds expression in a new setting.

So what do you think comes first, setting or story?

Or do they feed each other, as I’m beginning to think?


About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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