Setting Means More Than Location

woman-packing-boxes-writing1209-300x200

We recently moved. We are only a dozen miles from our last house, but it’s a world away. We went from “the middle of flippin’ nowhere” to “closer to society.” The drive time alone makes a huge difference to my peace of mind. But there are other, seemingly smaller things that have an impact on the everyday me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It got me thinking about setting. I’ve been writing more now, and have been hyper sensitive to what is going on around my main characters. Where a story takes place is more than location. It affects a person’s (or character’s) mood, mindset, and inherent and unknowingly learned truths.

looking_over_london    brain      girlindress

Let me give you some examples.

In the new house, I’m surrounded by things I’ve forgotten. Maybe I never realized how much I enjoy them. They include:

1. The sound of a lawnmower   lanmower

Country living provides the every-so-often drone of a far-off tractor. Or the faint hum of a riding mower. Now, hearing a lawn being mowed in close range reminds me there are people nearby. In my mind, when I hear the mower, I see a person pushing the mower. People–my neighbors–are up and about, caring about their yard and tending to it. It makes me feel like I’m part of the bigger picture. Had I not lived the rural life for the past 14 years, I probably wouldn’t even notice the sound. Or, it might make me crazy to hear it all the time. Maybe I’d wake in a fury if the buzzing was wafting through my open window at 7am on a Saturday. Now, though, I love it.

When your main character hears the whir of his next door neighbor’s lawnmower, how does he or she feel about it? And maybe more importantly, why?

2. The smell of cut grass                                                                                                     rotarymower

I’ve always thought heaven will smell like a freshly-cut lawn. That smell is so overwhelming wonderful to me, I can’t even tell you. And I get to smell it now! The sound of a lawnmower being pushed around next door is wonderful to me not only because of a sense of community, but because the soft wind will carry that lovely, earthy scent directly to my haven’t-smelled-that-in-ages nose. It smells divine. And I have the loud murmuring lawnmower to thank for it. rainbows from Amys window at delapre abbey

Does you main character even recognize the smell of grass? Why does where they live make a difference to their reaction?

3. Construction sounds                                                                                                 tractordirt

BEEPBEEPBEEP throughout the day might make one go mad. But now, I hear it and smile. It’s the sound of progress. It’s the sound of roads being made and homes (not houses) being built. It’s a harbinger of a future community, a community I can’t wait to be a part of. So bring on the beeping and pounding and shouting. It’s worth it.

suburbsWales

What would your main character think?

4. Blasted radios and shouts from construction workers

The daylong hustle and bustle is a welcoming noise to me. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a city-like atmosphere so shouting-over-the-banging reminds me of that simpler time in my life? Those sounds I hear today come from the very people that are making way for MY neighbors. No, I don’t like the chosen radio station and no, you shouldn’t park your truck in the middle of the road every morning, and would it kill you to walk five feet instead of shouting? But I know it’s temporary, and I know it’s the price to pay for the incoming greater good. These people made my home too. I don’t begrudge them; I thank them.

boombox

How would your main characters react to construction going on down their streets? How do they feel about commotion they can’t control? Would they try to change it? How? Would they complain to a supervisor, write a letter, complain yet do nothing? Their reaction (or lack of action) is telling.

5. No ever-lingering horse-poo scent, no roosters, no windy roads, no driving three miles to get my mail and newspaper

Have you ever heard a real sheep? I swear to you, it sounds like some guy is standing out in a field going “BAA baaa BAA BAA.” It’s hilarious. Maybe I’ll miss that sound just because it makes me laugh. But probably not.

stock-footage-handsome-young-man-walking-in-wheat-field-at-summertime

Other frustrations are sure to replace the ongoing eau de manure we had at the old house. But I know for CERTAIN I will NEVER EVER EVER no matter what EVER miss hearing cock-a-friggin-do ALL DAY AND NIGHT. Whoever told you roosters cackle at the break of dawn is lying. ROOSTERS CROW ALL DAY EVERY DAY AND IT NEVER STOPS NOT EVEN WHEN YOU REMIND YOUR NEIGHBOR THAT FARM ANIMALS ARE AGAINST ASSOCIATION RULES. There are no chickens or roosters or horse droppings in my new suburbia. None. And that’s pretty flippin’ cool.

rooster

How would your main character react to city racket vs urban din vs suburbian quiet? What are they used to hearing, smelling, seeing? Which do they prefer? Do they even realize they prefer one over the other?

These are just a few ways my outlook has changed since moving. I’m sure the fondness will wear off, but I’m thinking I’ll miss the clamor when construction ends. I really like being in the middle of things. It’s why we moved. If I hadn’t had all those years surrounded by our home on the range, I doubt I’d feel any of the above. I’d probably be tired of seeing garage doors and dream of moving out to the country.

Our stories need all this background too. Setting is more than location. It affects more than you think. Make sure your characters feel what they feel not just because it’s how you wrote it, but because it’s their truth.

Garden Path

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some windows to open.

Where does “trick or treat” come from*?

I mustache you for candy

I mustache you for candy

At the risk of creating a post that will be immediately dated, I found out something today I never knew. Not one to bottle up joy, I thought I’d keep the cork off and share with you.

Certainly you already know Halloween comes from Hallow and evening, that Hallowe’en was the original spelling with the v left out, and it stood for the evening before All Hallows Day on Nov 1st, making Oct 31st All Hallows Eve, which is the day/night before the feasts of the saints and souls of loved ones that have passed on.

And certainly you know never to write such a long sentence as that one. Whew, I’m tired just rereading it. But I digress.

“All Hallows” in Old English, according to dictionary.com, means “feast of the saints.” The Catholic church today calls November first All Saints Day, and celebrates saints as well as family members that have died. (FWIW, All Souls Day is the following day, Nov 2, and is technically set aside to pray for those that may have died without a clean slate and might need our prayerful help to get past St. Peter. But again, I digress.) And now back to trick or treating.

Who wants some candy?

Who wants some candy?

Tradition several hundred years ago had it that you’d dress in something scary to ward off the evil spirits that were trolling the earth the night before the Holy day, hence the costumes we wear today.

But how did “trick or treat” start? That’s where the fun comes in. In the Middle Ages, the poor would knock on doors asking for food the night before All Souls Day. It was called “souling.” In exchange and in gratitude for any food you’d give them (probably not in a pillowcase though), they’d pray for your deceased loved ones (pls see earlier reference to All Souls Day…some family members needed all the help they could get…).

Then the Scots and Irish upped the ante. In the 1800s, they had (and still have, apparently) a custom called “guising.” Children dress up in costume and do some sort of entertaining, such as card trick, singing in rhyme, or telling a story, in exchange for a treat. Hence the trick and the treat. I’m guessing, and have no proof here, that the saying was probably a question, rather than a demand, and was more a complete sentence, as in  “Trick for treat?” Again, I’m guessing, but the dressing up part probably had a positive and direct correlation on the treat presented. History says kids usually hit up the richer households (which I know for a fact is still done, doesn’t everyone know that one house that gives out FULL SIZE candy bars?!?). The Scots and Irish brought that tradition here when they immigrated in the early 1900s.

Trick or treat

There’s always that one guy that doesn’t dress up

The practice didn’t sit well with many Americans at first. By the 1930s, it kinda pissed off some folks. Kids were gung-ho on the idea, though, and didn’t want to stop. That might be where the or comes in…a mild threat. Again, no historical proof on the “or” part, just my thought. (Figures the U.S. throws a little bullying into the mix, huh?)

IMG_0392

What could be scarier than a ’60s gogo dancer?

By the 1950s our Oct 31st tradition of donning odd clothing, knocking on a stranger’s door, demanding they give us edible loot, and walking away (and/or TPing the houses that handed out pennies or a stick of Juicyfruit) was in full swing. As is my annual Nov 1st sugar hangover.

Super Kitty suffers Halloween payback

Super Kitty suffers Halloween payback

Much like most of America and American tradition, Halloween is a blend of many cultures, many countries, and many meanings. I like that such an American thing we enjoy today (costumes, parties, celebrations, candyfest) has little to do with America. We didn’t create it or start it. But we helped it evolve. We owe our sweet-filled night o’ fun to many that came before us. The SEVEN BILLION DOLLAR (that $7,000,000,000 — nine zeros) that’ll be generated this Halloween proves how much we’ve embraced it.

So go out, enjoy your night of trickery and treating. Just take it easy on the fun-sized sweets and/or monster punch. Even Super Kitty learned that lesson the hard way.

*The factual information here was gathered and double checked from books, websites, historical research, and other reliable sources. I’m an author, for Pete’s sake, I’d never knowingly report or quote falsehoods. Seriously. If you know or find any facts contrary to what I’ve written here, I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment or email me. I love learning.