Friday, December 30, 2011

The Excitement of a Small Town Setting

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Chloe and me in downtown Matthews[6]I’ve talked to writers before who just don’t get why I write small town settings.

“But it really limits what you can do!” and “Does anything really ever happen in small towns?” are the two comments I usually get when the topic comes up.

I’ve found, though, that it’s not limiting because a lot does happen in small towns. I grew up in one and still remember some of the shocking, soap-opera-like stories I’d overhear the grownups whispering over. You’ve never known drama until you’ve lived in a small town.

Small towns are full of secrets: When everyone knows everyone else, you feel the need to hide things that you don’t want the whole town knowing about. Realizing there’s a character with a secret and having a protagonist work to unearth it leads to natural suspense.

Small towns can set the stage for conflict: Feelings run deep in a small community because perceived slights seem personal.

Isolation: Small towns can seem, or actually be, remote. If you’re writing a book where the characters need to either feel or really be cut off from the rest of the world, a small town setting can really add that element to your story. Want Wi-Fi? Good luck.

Replicating a small town feel in a larger town setting:

I also write stories set in larger locations—no one would call Memphis a small town. But I try to replicate that small-town feel in other ways:

Limited setting: The story’s action centers around a central location with limited other scene settings. Just get rid of your wide angle lens and the panoramic city shots in your story and pull the shot in.

Presence of family and connectivity: Gathering around food, conversations in rocking chairs on porches, etc.

Recurring series characters who are warm and engaging for readers.

Do you enjoy reading or writing stories based in small town settings? What particular elements of this setting have you found interesting to work with or read?