I just received feedback on one of my novel pitches that said (among other things) that he wanted a greater sense of the setting. Ah yes, that old nemesis, setting. It’s not really news that it’s important, and I sit here pondering the last several books I read, I can instantly recall aspects of time and place. In fact, I think one of the reasons I loved Eleanor and Park is because it was situated in such a perfect way to make me feel like I had gone home. Of course, place can be more than a town or a place, but it should lead to a state of mind.
I’m not writing this blog just to lament my writing weakness. I find myself contemplating the importance of place in general, and I wonder if we’re discounting it a bit too much as a society. In Popular Culture in the Media, we talk about “mass culture” and potential homogenization. Simply put, between mass marketing/media and national chain stores and restaurants, there’s far less local culture than may have historically existed. This probably truest in suburban America where no matter what the title of the city is, you can find the same Targets, Kohls, Olive Gardens, McDonalds, and Starbucks. The uniformity and sameness is comforting in a way. It saves time. Need Tylenol? Back left corner of Walgreens.
On the other hand, we can lose uniqueness, local culture, and (I believe) even humanity. It’s all too homogenous to be human. Too easy to forget that people are involved at all.
A couple of years ago, we almost moved from our current city. In the end, we just couldn’t pull the plug. At the time, we’d lived here almost ten years, but I didn’t feel connected. I vowed that if we were going to stay, that had to change, and we’ve definitely made efforts, but we can keep working on it.I may not have loved the critique, but I appreciated the reminder to focus on setting more. It's a lesson I can apply to many aspects of my life.
Let's start with an appreciation of good settings. What book/stories/movies can you think of where the setting is most vivid? What are the best things about your local community?