This week in my novel-writing class, we’re talking about setting. This is the lecture I’ve developed over the years to talk about this subject, which is near and dear to my heart. Midwesterners especially leave setting out of their stories, but we very much need them not to.
“You have to have somewhere to start from: then you begin to learn,” [Sherwood Anderson] told me. “It don’t matter where it was, just so you remember it and ain’t ashamed of it. Because one place to start from is just as important as any other. You’re a country boy; all you know is that little patch up there in Mississippi where you started from.”
Many apprentice writers write what I call the “Nowhere and Everywhere Story.” Their stories occur in a temporal and cultural vacuum. The setting could just as easily be a small town in Pennsylvania as a small town in Florida, a suburb of Los Angeles as a suburb of New York City, a farm in Oregon as a farm in Ohio.