My dad came over last night and we were talking about a recent trip he took to KY. Now, I have to explain that my dad is a geologist and one of the smartest men I have ever met so he thinks about things and notices things in a way I wouldn’t.
He was telling me that after driving through Lexington (which is a fairly big area with shopping and attractions) he drove about 50 miles and came to a town that looked like it was from 1920. It was small. There was a lack of shopping or super stores.
He had noticed on the drive that Lexington sits over limestone. But, as he made his way to the smaller town the town was on coal (whatever rocks indicating coal were present apparently caught his eyes. I don’t know much about this). The smaller town had been a mining town in the past. Lexington had been more agricultural. It is amazing that such a small thing as what kind of rocks the ground is made of can make the difference between a booming metropolitan area and a back woods nearly ghost town. I didn’t see it since I wasn’t on the trip. But I can imagine it.
One thing that writers often don’t take into account with the setting of a story is how the place affects the characters. How does a story that takes place in Ohio need to differ from one that takes place in Iowa or Missouri? And more importantly, why?
The town I grew up in was once a factory town. Railroad tracks are abundant. The people in our town tend to be poor, non professional, under educated, and white. There is a problem with meth and pot in our town. There is also a lack of art museums and other things indicating sophistication. We don’t even have a bookstore anymore.
The people who built my hometown were factory workers and the people serving them. It is very different from the other areas near us. Columbus us 45 minutes away. In Columbus the population is diverse, there are museums, shopping malls, bookstores, and such. There is a much more diverse group of educated and uneducated.
Thirty minutes in the other direction there is farmland and little else.
It helped remind me as a writer why I can’t just plop down any old character any old place. For a story to feel real the setting has to be appropriate. And the writer needs to consider why the place they are writing is as it is.