It’s Friday, so I’m taking it easy and letting someone else do the writing! I’ve got a great guest post for you today from Brian Holers, author of Doxology. When I read the synopsis, I was struck by how important the location seemed to the story. You know how sometimes the setting seems to be as much a part of the story as the characters, and I wondered, just how important is the setting? Can you move a story around and have it be the same story?
Can this story be relocated?
How important is setting to story? Can the same tale be told as well in one place as in another? Can human conflicts and struggles transfer readily from an Indonesian village to the heart of New York City? The answer depends on what the reader is looking for.
A story presented in fictional form can thrive in a multitude of settings. If one were to gather all the stories read and heard and repeated over a lifetime, and reduce them to essentials, there would only be a few. Themes of love, loss, birth, death and revenge abound. In this way, fiction presents nearly infinite options for telling a story as there are no facts to consider, while opportunities to expand detail or backstory are everywhere. When we read books and see movies and shows, we experience the same few stories, told in different costumes and different eras with different characters exploring different parts of their experience, over and over again. The particular time, location and setting detail in which a story is told provide anchors, hold it in place in the real world, allow the reader to relate to it. These facets draw the reader in, either with familiarity or by contrast with the reader’s own experience.
Every detail in a book affects all its other details, as well as its transportability. For instance, a story told indoors is more easily transplanted into another location. As more of the events in a book take place outside, location becomes more important. Two characters working things out over drinks in a hotel bar can take place in New York as easily as New Orleans; when they step into the air, everything changes.
We are often advised to write what we know. My novel, Doxology, follows two stories; Vernon Davidson comes to terms with loss while his nephew Jody goes on a journey of discovery. As a writer, and a storyteller, I am most familiar and most at home with Southern, charismatic people who speak in laden expressions and who are steeped, whether they like it or not, in the Gospel and in Christian experience. Doxology tells of drives in the country, fishing in ponds, characters pulling trucks to the side of the road to take little walks in the woods. The telling of this story requires it be set in a rural area, and the colorful language anchors it in the rural South.
A novel is all details. A generic story of acceptance and rediscovery and salvation can be fleshed out and fitted to work in any of a number of locations. But the particular setting, and the characters and details that are part of that setting, must be genuine enough and work together well enough to draw us into the story, and give us a reason to care. Doxology, like many good stories, could be transplanted to a different time and a different place, with different characters. But they would have to be taken apart, undressed and reconfigured in the new setting. And then we would have a completely different story.
More on Brian Holers…