Good day, Virtually Readers! (I’m trying to mix up the greeting, clearly at risk of sounding like a stuck up 19th century nobleperson) I love love love talking about settings (did The Bookish Planet or my guest post at The Silver Words clue you in?) so today I thought I’d talk about why I’m sick of some settings. (I kind of alluded to this in my North of Happy post) Also, why setting matters so much. I kind of did this in my ‘exotic’ post, but you know, it’s been a while and I’ve had more ideas. So.
Firstly, some settings I’m sick of
- small town America
- New York
- Medium sized town America
- Rural America
- actually anywhere in America
- anywhere in Europe if the character is not European
- Cruise ships
- magical islands
- magical forests
- Medival European fantasy worlds
These settings aren’t inherently bad. There are a lot of people who live there—in fact, that probably includes most of the people who read and buy YA. But for me, who has never been to America, who hasn’t spent much time in Europe, I find that these settings don’t describe my lived experience. That’s fine. I have a vivid imagination; I can imagine myself in those places. In fact, at this point, I basically feel like I’ve been there. But I wish that there were more settings outside these narrative boundaries.
What makes me really sad is when stories bend to these expectations. A story doesn’t have to be #ownvoices for setting, but I’ve seen New Zealand, Australian, British, Mexican and Indian writers set their stories in the US, when the settings could just have been the countries they come from, which I’d prefer. I don’t know why this is; maybe they write it that way, maybe the setting proved a point, maybe the publisher asked for it. But it seems like a power imbalance to me.
When you belong to the setting you’re writing, it’s going to be more authentic. It’ll have details that generic, nameless settings won’t. That makes a difference to me, even if it’s not a setting I’m familiar with.
So I’m going to segway into part two: some settings that I do want to see more of—or that I wish existed.
- South American settings/inspired tales. There are an okay number of Latinx characters in YA books, but very few Latin settings. Give me a story in the Yucatan peninsula or Bolivian highlands or Colombian coffee plantations or Atacama desert.
- Sci-fi and dystopia that is outside of the US and is international. Something that always troubles me about dystopias like The Hunger Games and Divergent is that they never mention other countries. I want more stories like The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm (futuristic South Africa).
- Contemporary Middle Eastern stories. This goes for China as well: there are lots of fantasies that use elements from these cultures, but I want more. (I’m very demanding)
- More #ownvoices fantasy, with Pacifika people, or maybe Caribbean, like Brown Girl in the Ring.
I don’t really know what this post is about. The need for #ownvoices settings, I suppose. And that’s really on the publishing industry, what they decide is sellable. But readers are the ones who buy, and if I don’t buy bland American settings, if I buy ones like the ones I’ve described, or even ones I can’t imagine, whether it’s fantasy or sci-fi or dystopia, I can make a difference.
I’m a good like individualistic capitalist. The corporations are fond of me. (Sorry, I’m reading Beauty Queens right now and anarchy is on the mind)
I have a lot more to say about setting and why it’s important to me but I have a lot more time to say it, so I’m going to leave this here.
Do you like your settings to be ownvoices? What’s a setting you’d love to read about? (and yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to say ‘the place where I live’) Tell me in the comments!