Monday, May 26, 2014

Location, Location, Location

It's not just a real-estate motto.

I was thinking this last night as we watched As Good As It Gets (1998) and the "gift" doctor makes a joke about how he couldn't find [the Helen Hunt character]'s house because it's in Brooklyn. The subtext there is class consciousness, and the only reason that Arizonans like me can get that is because so many other movies take place in New York. In You've Got Mail (I'm showing my 1998 vibe), the Heather Burns character says she doesn't want to lose her job at the bookstore because she'll lose her apartment, "and then I'll have to move to Brooklyn."

Intentionally or not, the Americans that have never been to New York "know" things about it. Movies and TV tell you that it's the only place to be, and isn't it great, and let me know you all these things like the flower district and the book district (You've Got Mail), Washington Square Park with autumn leaves (When Harry Met Sally, Friends, August Rush), movie theaters and restaurants (Annie Hall, almost every Woody Allen film except a few in recent years, and No Reservations), where to work (Devil Wears Prada and Working Girl), publishers (The Proposal, Funny Farm, The Ghost Writer, Her Alibi) --and I could really go on. I don't doubt that it's a great place, and I don't doubt that there's plenty to see and experience, especially if you're tenacious --but what about the adventure and tenacity that you can see outside of New York?

Shouldn't there be other places to write about?

My students claim that this is my biggest teacher rant. I'm not sure that it is (I rant about adverbs, exclamation points, telling words, slow pacing... okay, a lot of things). But of this I am sure: write about where you live. You know it, unless you just moved there, and in that case, you should have the curiosity to explore it.

Here are some things to consider in regards to setting:

1. Why do you live where you live?
2. Did you choose it or was it chosen for you?
3. What about your location speaks to your personality?
4. If you could change one thing about the place you live, what would it be?
5. How does that one thing speak to your personality?

Here are some things to consider in regard to setting in fiction:

1. Just as your setting speaks to who you are, how does your character's setting speak to who he/she is?
2. If your character could change one thing about his/her setting, what would it be?
3. What does this one thing say about your character's personality?
4. How would your character change if he/she were put into a different city?
5. Think about the scene you're writing right now: how would this scene change if the weather changed? What if it was sunny at a funeral? What if a windy day disrupted something that your character wants?

Don't underestimate your setting. You're not on a studio backlot in the 1950s forcefully giving the illusion that your character is someplace he/she isn't with projected backdrops.

No, your character is in a real place reacting to real things in a real way. Make your character alive based on where you put him/her.

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