Your MC's Homeworld

Emissarius

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Hello,

If your protagonist is set to leave her home planet/ city/ village/ town early on in the book (say, at around 20% of the book/ chapter 4-5), how much
would you invest in that place? Some examples, like the Wheel of Time's Two Rivers and Star Wars' Tatooine invest a lot of detail and history into the place despite the MC spending more time elsewhere. Then you've got places like Harry Potter's Privet Drive which, imo, is so scantily-described that there's hardly a sense of place at all. I assume the rich and hilarious character of the Dursleys' household makes up for it, though.

What would you consider the best approach? I admit I'm currently grappling with this issue in my space fantasy ms. I've planned and outlined extensively for all parts and locations of the story except for the MC's homeplanet, and I don't mind telling u that I've still got no idea if it's going to be an island, a town, or a countryside. How do you make the choice? Do you take into consideration how the MC feels about the place? For example, both Privet Drive and Tatooine were drab and boring in their own way, that's how Harry and Luke saw them, and that's why they wanted to leave. Yet still, one place was given a rich history and details while the other was technically glossed over.

On the other hand, Bilbo's Shire and Rand (from the Wheel of Time)'s Two Rivers are beautiful places and I guess it's no coincidence that both MCs were forced to leave instead of wishing for it. My MC is in the Luke/ Harry category. He can't wait to get off-world. Should I aim for a depressing kind of setting, then? Does that mean mountains and greenery are out? What about Edwardian/ Gaslight settings? Both are personal favorites of mine, and none of them will feature on the planet the MC travels to after the fifth chapter (that one will be technologically advanced and full of skyscrapers). I thought that having him live in a green countryside homeworld or a Victorian one with no tall buildings whatsoever would actually be a nice contrast to the other planet and would fill him with awe. But is it really feasible to write about a setting you love like a green countryside/ village and have your MC despise it?
 

Astro Pen

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Are they going to return to their home location at the end?
If they are, then a rich description early on pays dividends when writing the return. The homecoming and familiar people/ places work wonders for a "completion" thing.
 

Toby Frost

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I think it's going to depend an awful lot on the book, the circumstances, and how you want to write it. As a result, I think it's very hard to give a yes or no answer to your question. But it's definitely harder to write a likable character who dislikes things that you like.

However, I would advise against anything that leads to the story starting with the hero being either bored or very passive (ie just waiting for the spaceship to take him off-world). If he's in a situation where, say, he has to get off-world because of being hunted by the police or a gang, that would be different, as he could use his wits to escape (for now) and then decide that it's too dangerous to stay. I find that starting with a bored hero is really an invitation for readers to be bored. So a dangerous setting could be compelling, but a dull one might be dull.

If not, I'd be tempted to start with him landing on the new planet, as that's really where the adventure begins, when he starts to seek his fortune or carry out his mission. But a lot of this is up to you and how well you feel you can describe the place he's from. I do think that it's important to know what sort of background this guy's had, which may affect the type of places that he knows, and what he'll make of everywhere in comparison.
 

Joshua Jones

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I think your answer is within your question. You mention Tatooine and Privet Drive and the Shire, which each take a different approach to detail and character emotion regarding them. Yet they all work in their own context. This implies there is no singular or best approach regarding this per se.

The real question isn't how should I describe the home of my protagonist, but rather how my description or lack thereof of the protagonist's home serves the story. Will it be contrasted with the new places the protagonist travels and found wanting? Found enticing? Found comforting? Will the protagonist, for example, encounter something on his/her journey which they encountered before on their home, or run into a Biggs type character who had "made it" before them.

In other words, references to the home can be used to contrast, to motivate, to yearn for or yearn away from, to plant an item or character, or a thousand other things, but which ones you choose to use will determine how your description of home will be best done.

Edit: @Toby Frost said much of the same and provided some excellent guidance regarding the opening. I would seriously consider moving the opening to after departure and drop notes to the home during the action, unless you have a strong reason to do otherwise.
 

-K2-

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Just my opinion, I am a novice... But I believe in at least knowing your protagonists background and home region well enough that how that region/life might have affected them, comes out clearly in where they are now.

As an example, my current protagonist lived a very different life (professions, culture, and community) in Hong Kong before returning to America (as it has changed in the story), now nine years later. I know the aspects of my protagonists earlier life in precise detail--more so--how it shapes a person. Those aspects come out in the place she is now living. They alter, how a person thinks, how they react, and though where she lives now is very different in some ways and gives her trouble, in others (like she's now in a massive slum and came from slum areas), she fits right in even more so than the residents, so thrives.

I don't need to name streets, names, and so on from Hong Kong or even describe where she lived in detail (though could), but I know it personally/intimately, so can demonstrate character conflicts and successes due to that experience in contrast to the now. I can also have my character mention anecdotes or talk about her past if needed. All of which makes the character that much deeper/rich...it doesn't mean I must use any of it, but I know it if I do.

Edit: I also mention she lived for a while in Bangkok, and I do describe places, people, and culture with a bit more detail in casual conversations she has. But again, I know those areas personally, and even use Thai expressions and words on occasion in the MS.

Just my opinion. There is also nothing saying if you need a bit you can't develop it on the fly, but, you may find what you wrote earlier is not as in depth as you might want, so then you'll need to fix it.

K2
 
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ginny

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The richer you make the world they come from--in their minds that is, the greater that the reader understands where they come from and how they work as a person in the story.

As someone said; it is up to you and your story.

I must say that often I've been disappointed in the lack of background to help understand why a character is the way they are, because there is no background or backstory; it's as though they just sprouted in the middle of the story and started running.
 

Trollheart

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There's always the "grass is greener" idea, which can be turned on its head. Character leaves what they believe to be a boring life for adventure in foreign climes/space and find that all they really wanted was at home, that they never appreciated it. But to do this, you have to invest in the world/city/home left behind, so that we can all nod our heads knowingly when they come back after their adventures and say, "hmmm, yes. I see. Expected that." or something. You could always have the MC flashing back in his/her mind to their home, comparing it to where they are now, maybe gradually changing their view of it as they see other places, some better, some worse, and maybe miss their friends?
 

msstice

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I find that starting with a bored hero is really an invitation for readers to be bored. So a dangerous setting could be compelling, but a dull one might be dull.
A little quibble here - bored hero OK, boring hero not ok. Luke was bored on Tatooine, just itching to get off, because his friends had left. Bored hero, looking for adventure, looking for trouble, often the best beginnings. Also, no one is really boring. Part of the art is to bring out the exciting things going on under the hood of outwardly boring people, like Walter Mitty, for example.
 

Joshua Jones

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A little quibble here - bored hero OK, boring hero not ok. Luke was bored on Tatooine, just itching to get off, because his friends had left. Bored hero, looking for adventure, looking for trouble, often the best beginnings. Also, no one is really boring. Part of the art is to bring out the exciting things going on under the hood of outwardly boring people, like Walter Mitty, for example.
That is a good point, but I do think a bored protagonist is very likely to become a boring one, even though it isn't universal. The temptation is to make a passive protagonist in the case where they are bored, which is nearly doomed to be boring. In contrast, Luke that you mention spent the whole time doing things, even though it wasn't fully what he wanted to be doing at the time. So, yeah, while it is possible to make a compelling yet bored protagonist, I feel like it goes wrong more often than goes right.
 

Brian G Turner

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The settings that have been mentioned are very important. The Shire and Privet Drive were ways of moving from the "real world" to the "other world". For the Shire, this was a simple and timeless rural place, an idyllic England, where the complex politics of the real world were completely absent. Privet Drive was an ordinary suburban street in an ordinary modern town.

As for Tatooine, the setting served to show the isolation of the place also away from the complex politics of the real world - ie, the Empire vs Rebels. It was an isolation Luke felt, but he wasn't bored, he was angry and frustrated and desperate to leave.

As for the original question - if you're going to spend 4-5 chapters in a place, I presume it's going to serve a purpose and not just be 4-5 chapters of domesticate introductions. :) Btw, you might want to look at the Hero's Journey structure for some ideas: Star Wars: The Force Awakens + The Hero's Journey
 

DLCroix

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Hello! There are many reasons your MC maybe wants to leave that green paradise. Because their river or lagoon can be very beautiful but he hates them because as a child he almost drowned in them. Or that beautiful meadow can be full of spiders, snakes and all kinds of nasty bugs. And when it rains a lot it can turn into a swamp. And to make your MC not look boring (it wouldn't be very original at this point) you can give it other reasons. Who also despises his people, for example. "Oh, those locals so thugs and unfriendly!" Or that he hates being poor, and he hopes that, if he leaves that place, his fortune will change. These are some ideas I can think of.
 

XibalbaComics

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The more I know about the MC's past and origins, the more I know about their motivation or the nature of their motivation, which is always crucial later on in making a compelling character. Our upbringing and personal history is super important in that regard, but perhaps the "look" and "feel" of your home world is not so important as the events that happened to your character there. If your character had a quiet life, or a chaotic one should really inform the setting and give you some idea whether it should be a city, an idyllic farm, etc. Sometimes you don't need the extreme detail in the world if you're not going to go into it yourself in your story, but knowing what sort of world it is just for your own purposes is v. helpful.

Luke was given the most boring place you could imagine - a flat, featureless desert pan - to long to get away from as part of his journey, and Frodo came from a pastoral paradise he wanted to protect. Harry lived with awful people in a very mundane sort of suburb setting to contrast his own extraordinary impending destiny and the magical world that lies "just beyond" it.
 
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