Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Setting Sketches

(I had some problems posting last night -- sorry for the delay.)

Day two of Wiesner's First Draft in 30 Days involves creating setting sketches for all of the locations that appear in the story. She specifies two different kinds of sketches: one for each location in its own right, and one for each character showing where that character goes during the story. I did both, since I'm trying to give her outlining method a fair shake, but I think this is somewhat inefficient. The character setting sketches ask for specifics about things like where the character works, where she lives, etc. The general setting sketches are more for things like cities or other large areas. I see her rationale: You need to be able to see vividly where the action is taking place in the story, but you also need to know how the "story setting" fits into the larger "world setting." All well and good, but there is a lot that gets repeated between the two sheets. If I were going to use these, I'd give serious thought to redesigning these sheets.

But I'm not likely to use them. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I have a program called Campaign Cartographer. This is the ultimate mapmaking program (though it's a bit arcane to use sometimes due to it being a Windows shell placed on top of a DOS program). I really think that the best way to visualize a setting is to completely map it out. This can be done much more thoroughly and much more rapidly than making written descriptions. And there's no need to imagine what you are seeing -- you can actually print it out and show it to people! I carry maps of the mining complex that is central to the storyline around with me everywhere. If I need to know about how long it would take to walk from location to another, I just pull out my map and look at it. That's extremely hard to do with a written description. The written description is of necessity incomplete -- otherwise you'd write a book just on the setting.

If you really want to be able to see what the place looks like, you could also render it in Poser. This is a lot of work, and I don't think it helps enough to justify the level of effort required, but it sure is impressive! Campaign Cartographer has an add-on called Perspectives Pro that will let you make quasi-3D perspective maps very rapidly. The only real problem is that almost all of the symbols they have are for fantasy rather than science fiction or modern settings, but for rapidly giving you a sense of "being there" the program is hard to beat. Hopefully they will come out with some modern symbols for PP soon.

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