Or, maybe you did. Somewhere between the worlds of memories, dreams and what writers understand of reality is your story’s landscapes. You may write Sci-fi, paranormal or realistic fiction, but no tale begins without the sense of place.
An important topic in writing is: Do you know the world where your story takes place?
Perhaps you’re in a situation in which you know the world, but your character has no clue where he or she is.
Somewhere between dreams and what Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) suspects is not his true reality, Oblivion takes movie watchers on his journey to discover the truth.
The movie was great! Unlike many modern movies, everything is not given away immediately. You are told a story, as in old movies. The audience, in an age of instant gratification, watches as Jack remembers a woman at the Empire State Building before Earth was devastated by aliens. The memory is filmed in black and white, and it becomes longer each time. While there is much to take away from Oblivion, one of the most important for writers is land, city and dreamscape.
You see New York City in Jack Harper’s dreams before the war. It is an undisturbed world both comforting and familiar until one day it changes. Sixty years after 2017, a lot of the Empire State building is buried in sand. Is it so far from reality?
As seen in the above photo, the world you know can change any minute. It is an essential part of Sci-Fi. Jack Harper cannot remember everything about the world he knew before, but he knows his apartment in the clouds with a woman named “Vic” is not correct.
When you watch Oblivion, your writer eyes will sparkle because of the cinematography. Jack rides on his futuristic motorcycle through sand past ships that were once at the bottom of the ocean. In the background giant triangular objects suck the oceans dry.
In another scene, Jack imagines the game played in a destroyed stadium. He is shaped by his surroundings – his passion to be a part of Earth before its destruction. He connects to the place, the audience connects to him and in a future time he yearns to be a part of the past.
Surroundings in stories tell readers or movie goers much about the character. The place is a character itself.
I recommend you watch Oblivion.
Mapping Your Dreamscape
The movie ends. You’re inspired. You need to draw. You need to write.
What do you do? In the case of Sons of the Edisto, most of my research came from a 1922 Sanborn Fire Insurance map. It shows which buildings were brick, had heating, electricity, plumbing and where gas stations were. I discovered a private African American school funded by Presbyterian U.S.A. While there is almost no mention of it in text today, the map introduced me to this school, which had electricity and heating for its students. I was able to find the number of students in a Presbyterian U.S.A document.
With the assistance of the map, I envisioned the street and building. I saw the students in my head. From there, I wondered what went through teachers and students’ heads. What were the requirements for the students to attend this school?
The Sanborn map, which is six pages long, gave me a solid start to how to build the Sons of the Edisto universe. While some writers must start without maps, none begin without inspiration. A map can only go so far. I had to build the rest of 1924 Bamburg: the swamps, Mizpah Church, an active Main Street, Aurelia Jean’s farm and a separate African American town.
Sci-fi world-building teaches us how and where to go.
Words and most Photos by Rebecca T. Dickinson
- Book-To-Movie-Adaptations: Stephen King’s “Nightmares & Dreamscapes” (awesomebooksforlife.wordpress.com)