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?