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About ten years ago I learned the word chronotope from an essay by literature professor Maria Nikolejeva.  Most people talk about setting or milieu in terms of literature, but these both emphasize place over time.  The word chronotope (Greek: chronos/topo, time/place) indicates the interface between time and space, and I like to keep this in mind when I’m writing fiction.  Some authors, especially of fantasy, view their settings as central characters; but the time period is just as important.  Kansas today is not what it was two hundred years ago, nor what it will be in two hundred years, or two thousand.  Present-day Stockholm is not the same as present-day Buenos Aires, Tuvalu or North Philadelphia.

Travelling makes chronotopes more apparent.  I was recently in Pompeii and Venice –– two places that have inspired a great deal of storytelling.  For example Mary Hoffman’s Stravaganza novels take place in a slightly-altered medieval Venice.  They were fascinating to read, but I had the sense that the chronotope was somewhat of a gimmick in the stories.

After spending a rainy day in Venice, I changed my mind.  Venice is a completely different concept regarding how to build a city, and how time leaves its mark on a place.  Pompeii (and nearby Herculaneum) were frozen in time by a volcanic blast, and their stories ended –– again giving us a unique insight into what a chronotope can mean to a story.

The story of Pompeii ended with Vesuvius’s eruption in 79 CE; Venice’s continues.