Setting (Boring, You May Think, But Important Nonetheless)

Quite a while ago, I posted a thingie about how setting affects character. Now I'm going to talk about setting again. :)

Um, here's the deal. There is quite a bit of background that goes into this, so this is going to be a long post probably. I know setting is not the most interesting topic in the world of writing, or least it isn't to me, but hang in there because I think what I have to say will be worth the read (I hope).

Alright. In my stories, I tend to place my characters in cities like London or New York, where most stories seem to take place. These settings are so exciting and have so many opportunities for the characters, and big cities seem to me to be generic in a the sense that they are all big and busy and messy. The words come rolling out even though I've never been to these places.

The problem with this is that the reader does not get a sense of connection to the setting, and in turn, they can't really get a sense of connection with the characters, which is kind of the whole point of a story, eh?

Now, here's where my background comes in. Don't skip this. It's interesting. :) I live in a pretty small city (in my opinion it's a deserted town in the middle of nowhere, but in truth, it's actually a very popular place) in Northern Michigan. This year it was rated second place for the top vacation spot in the whole of the United States, which is a pretty big accomplishment, though I wouldn't recommend coming here in the winter, as you may not be able to leave. During the snowy season (usually October-ish to April-ish) the population is about five, but in the summer, there are hundreds of thousands. Um, pardon the rant there...

Hm, did I mention this before? Aha! Yes I did! The writer Doug Stanton lives around here. He started up this thing called the National Writer's Series in which high school students in Northern Michigan have a chance to win a college scholarship (I mentioned a few posts ago that my sister won it for non-fiction). But since I'm not in high school anymore, I think the best part about the National Writer's Series is that authors come and get interviewed about writing and stuff and stuff and it's cool. Mitch Albom came once, but I didn't get to see it. The writer's of the show Mad Men came too, but I didn't go that one either...

So, now here is the purpose behind that long and winding rant... I went to one of the writer's series interviews. There were three authors who were all from Michigan, which I thought was nice, since, well, I'm in Michigan. And the interviewer posed a very interesting question. Do you write about Michigan, and why? And all three of them answered yes, because this is the place they know, the culture they understand, and the way they live their lives. Each of their stories take place in Michigan.

I was super intrigued by this. People who have read my work claim that they have trouble connecting with the characters. This is probably, I realized, because I myself am not connected to them very well. If they live in New York City or London, they are living in a different culture from me, one that I do not understand entirely. I am completely immersed in the culture of my town, and let me tell you, it has an enormous culture! The arts are amazing here! They are the strongest part of the education system. We're like a miniature NYC or LA. They've filmed movies here. No does a double take when they see Michael Moore wandering around downtown. Also, we are the cherry capital of the world. We have festivals all the time. It can get quite nuts.

Despite the snow (which I CANNOT stand; I don't think I can handle one more winter without sunlight; we've got seasonal affective disorder all over the place, or maybe that's just me) I absolutely adore the culture of this place. I recently started writing a story that takes place here, and as I read it, I feel a super strong connection with the characters. I understand where they are coming from (because I come from the same place). I can portray them in a certain way, and I think that readers will be able to better understand them too.

Woah. That was a long post. What do you think? Do your stories take place in the place where you live? If so, do you think that you can better understand the character you write because they live in the same culture as you do? I would love to hear what you have to say about this topic!

Have a nice weekend!

Peace, Aimee