Friday, July 5, 2013
In honor of the Fourth of July, I want to write a quick post about setting. This country is full of wonderful, amazing places that are waiting to become the backgrounds for a great story, but the word “background” can be misleading.
Currently, I’m writing about Cape May, New Jersey, but I mentioned that already. This place is an ocean-side resort town, with ghost tours, ice cream parlors, dolphin-watching tours, teahouses, and lots of Victorian houses. Something about this place screams to be written about. I love the potential in this town, and I hope to create a place and a fictional story that has half as much as I love about this place.
Other people write about Indianapolis and Chicago and California and lots of other spots in this country and in this world--I can’t say that I’ve had the desire to write about these places yet, but I may someday. The tricky part is to make the setting something alive and real. So much of this country is awesome, and if you can write about it and make it real, then the setting makes everything about your writing more vivid. The setting becomes another living, breathing character in your story. Instead of the background of the story, the setting becomes a part of the story.
Mark Twain's Mississippi River has become an adventurous charm for people all over the world because of his writings. Edgar Allen Poe's concept of the early American East Coast has tempered all of our memories with dark visions of the creepy. John Steinbeck solidified the sadness of the Depression in a way many people couldn't have verbalized before or since. Eudora Welty wrote beautifully about the American south. Even now, we have writers like Donald Miller writing about Portland, Oregon, and Haven Kimmel writing about Indiana.
Funny thing is, we know this country and love it, mostly. But when we share someone else's wonderful and insightful perspective on a corner of our world--like Haven Kimmel's stories about New Castle, Indiana--the setting helps to make our world and our country a little more alive, too. Our world makes more sense when the setting is effective, and the settings help us to share our backgrounds and perspectives with lots of others.