Friday, March 29, 2013

Capturing the Heart and Feel of a Small Town

My home town! Courtesy of Wikipedia
Small town settings have always been popular in Christian fiction. They are idyllic and simple. Filled with people who know each other and stand out. Crafting the small town might seem like it doesn't take a lot of work, but let me say (this coming from a small-town girl) we are something else. We take a lot of studying to make sure you portray our quirks right. ;-)

Setting a small town is just as much characters as it is landscape. Sometimes it's just describing the people walking down the street that make the scene come to life. We don't have to know them, we don't have to know their names. But maybe your main character does and that sets the stage for what and how she feels about her hometown.

QUIRKS. It's in the landscape. It's in the hearts of the people. It's in the size of the town. Not all small towns are created equal. Everyone thinks of small towns in different ways. Where I live (in a county larger than 7 states) we have fewer than 7,000 people. That's a big difference of the small town of 12,000 or a even a tourist town of 5,000. Each has a different landscape. A difference in knowing the person who walks down the opposite street and not.

Pick your small town character carefully. And pick your small town with the greatest of care. If you create one, but don't live in one, visit small towns. Talk to those who come from small towns, not just what you think a small town should or shouldn't have. Everyone will have a different opinion, but garner the best advice and create your perfect setting.

LOCATION. Will you set it in the country or the city? You can have a small town or a small community in the city, but location is huge right now in branding the place where your character lives. Some of us as writers, don't like to pick one particular real place. (say the place you live, unless it's a larger city). So for me, I channeled my home town, the feel of the town, the layout, but gave it a different name and a slightly different location. But I kept all proximity to larger cities to ground it.

PEOPLE. I've already mentioned this, but it can't be said enough: Make your setting, the people of your setting a third character. Give them a voice on the page. It doesn't have to be loud. It doesn't have to always apparent, but let it seep into the story like soft layer. You're story will be richer for it.

PICTURES. Troll the internet. Google small towns under the images option and see what you come up with. Collect some pictures and make an album or a story board on pinterest. It's bound to become a new obsession for you! Make your town come to life. It will be full and powerful, take the richness and depth to a whole new level.

So you've got the small town. You've got the picture. You've got the people. Now you just to write the story! Are you a small town story crafter or do you prefer the big city?

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in rural Eastern Oregon in a town more densely populated with cows than people.


Sally Bradley said...

What I dislike in small town settings is the really unique shop that no small town could realistically support.

I've lived in a small town for several years now. And when a new store or restaurant opens, people want to support it and try to. But invariably the place doesn't exist a year later.

So when I read small town stories now with a store like that, I'm already raising an eyebrow.

On the flip side, why have big city settings not been so popular in the CBA? Personally I'd rather read that than small town settings.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Big settings can be exciting, Sally. There is so much that can be done there.
But I think many readers like to retreat to a small town setting where life seems slower, cozy, everyone knows each other.
I have lived in both and have seen the good and bad with both. Then again, people are in both. I have felt like a fish in a fishbowl, and I have felt lost in an ocean. On the other hand I have felt the warmth of close knit groups where we can walk a block and see the whole town and I have been awed listening to the chatter on a subway.
Either way, God has blessed and shown me his people.

Pepper said...

I wonder if the uniqueness of 'small town' personality is why more CBA books are set in them.

And I know from the small town I've lived in for the past 7 years, there are the shops that come and go (there was a DELICIOUS New Orleans cuisine that only lasted 2 years. UGH), but there are also those that stand the test of time and become a 'standard'. When I write my that are set in small towns, I try to draw upon the shops that DO maintain a presence. Bookshops and restaurants...oh, those are my favorites :-)

Angie Dicken said...

Interesting! I am drawn to writing the small town feel...good points, Casey! I read primarily Historical Romance, and there's just something magical with it being set in a small pocket surrounded by's....romantic! BUT,
Sally, I love reading the big city also. I can think of Siri Mitchell's She Walks in Beauty set in New York City, and Joleen Green's, Wedded to War does such a great job portraying the big city. I have a couple book ideas in mind set in Boston, and since I've been there, I have a good feel for it.

Sally Bradley said...

So good to hear that you guys do like big city settings. Mine are contemporaries set in Chicago and the suburbs. Yes, there's a ton of people there. But even in a big city, we all break it down into our own small town with the people and places we know. I'd love to see big city settings take off in CBA.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I love small towns...quaint, quirky, and quiet. Sigh...always sound idyllic. Great setting to stir up some trouble with our characters!!!!

Carissa said...

While I like big city settings in novels. My favorite setting is small towns. Though I lived in a average city growing up I loved spending summers in the small town that my mom grow up in.

The setting of my first novel that I am working on right now is a small town.