“In the best stories, however, setting is an inherent element in bringing to life not just the scenery but also the characters themselves.”
K.M. Weiland, Outlining Your Novel
Some writers say the setting is it’s own character. I agree. When I started searching Google Maps for a place to set The Sea & All Its Stars, I knew I wanted it to be two things: 1) in the Mediterranean and 2) to be a real place.
I knew I didn’t want an island that was well-known. But I wanted a place with roots, a place where I could pull from the actual geography. That eliminated places like Crete, Corfu, Skopelos and Skiathos (where Mamma Mia was filmed), Mykonos, and Santorini. I considered Lefkada, as well as Naxos and Paros (all those blue caves!) because of their connection to the Greek god Poseidon and his nereid wife, Amphitrite.
As I continued writing and inputting “ISLAND NAME” and other geographical references in all caps, I got to the point where I couldn’t keep having a nameless place. I was at the place in my story where I needed to refer to mountains, landmarks, directions, climate, etc.
I set off on an internet search, starting with the underwater palace of Nereus, the Old Man of the Sea and father of the nereids. That led me to an obscure reference to Nereus’ palace being at the bottom of the sea somewhere between Chios and Ikaria. (I have since lost the original link that led me there, which just goes to show you keep your story bible!) Which led to checking out the islands around those, ultimately leading to Samos.
As I’ve said before, the more and more I read about Samos and its history, the more it fit in and added to and shaped the plot of The Sea & All Its Stars.
Samos is the ninth largest island in the Greek Aegean. It lies in the eastern Aegean and, at its closest point, is two miles from Turkey. It is mountainous and rocky in places, but also has valleys, plains, caves, and waterfalls. Over the centuries, Samos has been known for its muscat wine, honey, and shipbuilding, as well as its deep roots in Ancient Greece. Pythagoras (mathematician), Aesop (fables), Epicurus (philosopher), and Aristarchus (astronomer) are all from Samos. During the Byzantine Empire, the theme of Samos was centered here (ie, part of the Byzantine naval fleet).
Samos holds great architectural wonders of the ancient world, including Tunnel of Eupalinos, an aqueduct built in the 6th century BC. It’s an amazing feat considering the tunnel was dug simultaneously from both ends, meeting in the middle, and lasted as a running aqueduct for over a thousand years.
Samos is hailed as the birthplace of Hera, goddess of the gods. The Temple of Hera or Heraion is on the southern side of the island. The earliest parts of the temple can be dated back to the 8th century BC. It’s crazy to think what the Heraion would’ve looked like in its heyday with the iconic columns, kouros, and all the different altars and buildings.
Location, Location, Location
Here’s a quick tour of a few of the places The Sea & All Its Stars is set or inspired by.
This was the first picture I saw of Samos that wooed me to the island. Mikro Seitani was gorgeous and the perfect place for a mortal and a nereid to meet. When I saw it in person last summer, it did not disappoint.
I’m still not one hundred percent sure which real village to use, so it might come out as a mash-up of villages. But I imagine the village scenes, along with the marina, in Pythagoreio (formerly known as Tigani) mostly because of it’s relation to a few other landmarks.
I can’t say why we’re here, but it makes an appearance in Act 2. Plus there’s this really cool cave that the Samian Sibyl, a priestess and prophetess, lived in. Totally creepy, right? But perfect for a setting.
The Rock Chapel
Sadly, I didn’t get to go here during my 3.5 days in Samos, but hopefully next time. Isn’t it mystical and magical? This chapel is the Panagia Makrini built around 8th-9th century AD. It’s likely that ascetics connected to a monastery lived here.
We arrive here late in Act 2 & Act 3. If you keep following the trail from the cove where Thaleia and Leander meet (which is Mikro Seitani), in a mile or two you’ll arrive at Megalo Seitani. Here is a wider cove beach with a little house and dock nestled in the far corner.
Read More on Setting as Character
- 16 Ways to Make Your Setting a Character in Its Own Right – K. M. Weiland, Helping Writers Become Authors
- Writing Tips: How (And Why) To Treat Your Setting Like A Character – Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn
- How to Make Your Setting a Character – Donald Maas, Writer’s Digest
- Treating Your Setting As a Character – Laura Nsafou, Quill Shift