Let the Gypsies Run

20 12 2011

I suppose in my idea for what I would post on the blog, I mentioned something or another about “writing advice”. I’ve posted on books, excerpts, and the dead dog syndrome where dogs pass out (YES! Look in the archives). But I’ve never really posted much writing advice. I suppose I’ll start today, then. Browsing around the Internet, I found these two fantastic pictures  from weheartit.com and it made me think about setting and small towns.

The pictures:

Both of these pictures represent the feelings the characters in my book think about their town. Jaycee, the main character, lives in Deer Valley, Minnesota, a (fictional) small town at the very edge of the Canadian/Minnesota border. And quite frankly, she hates it. It’s too stifiling, too small, everyone knows everything about everybody, they’re all related to each other, the schools suck, the big cities are too far away….the list goes on and on. She’s not the only one that mentions her hatred throughout the novel. I think at least three other characters so far, with others’ complaints planned later in the story, have complained about how horrible they hate their town.

I live in a small town. It looks like this:

Well, not really. That’s a picture of people lining up for some event (I don’t know which one it is. Thus the magic of Google Images) in front of a building pretty close to my house. But that’s a picture. It’s small. And all the things my characters complain about: everyone being related; people gossiping and knowing everything about everybody; and the closeness of the town happens in my town all the time. And it can both be good and bad.

So today I’m here to discuss one of the magics of settings, specifically small town settings and their community. Because

1). I adore small town settings.
2) They make great metaphors.
3) They interest me…um, I live it.

So what makes a small town different? I think the character motivations can be different. Small town books’ characters often dream of leaving, of going onto a brighter future, of leaving the town they hate. Characters in larger times more often have a bigger future, and already have all the luxuries that small-town living MC’s can only dream of.

The places can be different, too — aren’t a lot of Miss Patsy’s Hoedown Barn in the cities. There are oddder buildings, quirkier people, and that can be great fun to look on. But my favorite part is the feeling of community.

Community can be destructive and encouraging. Community can stifle a person, make them want to go free. And at the same time, it can make characters more connected to their communities, make them feel proud, just like when you cheer on your hometown sports team.

Community has to be developed well. For me to believe you, you need three things. Good characters, people you would actually find in the middle of nowhere or a town of 2,000 people. You need realistic situations — there probably wouldn’t be a high-rise building for your character to get trapped inside in Hokey Tokey Ville.

When I read books and get a sense of community, I love it. I love the characters and the setting and everything. A few books come to mind; Jellicoe Road and Like Mandarin among others. I hope my books show the same thing.

But the point I really wanted to prove was you need to be careful of your setting. I know about small towns.  I live one and I can write one. Deer Valley is very similar to my —will-not-be-mentioned—town. But it might be harder if you lived in a big city, Minneapolis or L.A or Memphis or NYC or Seattle. You need to be careful, and if you don’t know your setting, research. Choose your setting carefully, get to know the town or world’s inhabitants and their feelings, prides, predjuices, longings (to leave; to stay).

Make sure it makes sense. Why would your MC be cattle wrangling in LA? You need to be careful. And write small towns.

Kidding.

(Yeah, right.)

And enjoy the magic of your setting. My town is made up of small town gypsies. Yours will be different. Using the power of setting and magic of characters and the world you have created, you can make a heck of a book.

Setting works. Use it wisely and carefully. Let the gypsies run.

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