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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why Where We Live Impacts Us

I've come to the realization that where we live has everything to do with how our lives evolve. That same geographic impact also carries forward into the books authors write, guiding the characters in one direction or another, opening or closing doors, and impacting everything they do.

For example, I spent most of my life in the Washington, DC area. In crafting stories with a DC backdrop, one can't ignore political undertones - it pervades everything inside the Beltway and for miles around. Locations for scenes are varied and multi-faceted, from outdoor parks, the river and recreational areas to museums, hotels, monuments and neighborhoods with distinctive characteristics. Characters living in the DC area are more likely to be well-traveled, educated and sophisticated.

Compare that with a woman living in a war-torn country, particularly one that has a history of oppressing women. Many of them will never travel beyond their village. Many will never experience television, radio, running water, telephones, automobiles or books. It seems hard to believe that in 2014 there are places like this, doesn't it? Yet there are. Some women will never know what they've missed because they never experienced it to begin with. Others might know there is something more beyond their borders but feel powerless to escape.

In real life, our options are often limited or limitless, depending on where we were born and where we live out our lives. In some countries, travel is made easy so moving from one area to another is possible. In other areas, one can not travel without the threat of harm or death.

In some places around the world, the decision to permit life or induce death or torture is based on the color of one's skin, on the God the worship - or the God they don't - the tribe they are a part of, or the class or caste their families belong to. In other places, instability means there are years in which their own factions wage genocide on others; then the tables are turned and they become the hunted.

Each of these backdrops opens worlds of possibilities for the author. It makes the difference in how easily a character can travel, what their opinions are, how they can or can not express themselves, whether they can advance and what tools are available to them. In some instances, picking up a cell phone can be second nature. In others, owning or using one can result in execution.

There are more subtle themes that run through the place in which we live, as well. We might be surrounded by a melting pot of cultures that might cause us to be more liberal-minded with an attitude of "live and let live" or we might live in a region where conformity means everything and those who do not conform are branded heretics. Allowing a character's mind to flourish can be something outside of their own control, such as a government or society that encourages thought - or like Galileo, even speaking of a scientific finding outside the norm could result in imprisonment.

The time in which we live also impacts everything we do and everything that is possible for us. Placing a character in a book in Tennessee in the 18th century could mean Indian wars or battles against the British; clothing from animal pelts and drinking water from creeks or rivers, carried in buckets. Placing that same character in the same place in the 21st century could mean working at a nuclear facility with nuclear physicists and scientists; advanced modes of transportation; communication that stretches around the globe.

Place and time. What has it meant to your own life? If you're an author, how does that impact your writing?

p.m.terrell's books have taken place in a myriad of backdrops: Afghanistan, China, Washington, DC, Virginia, Ireland, North Carolina, and Tennessee - both in the 21st century as well as the 18th century.

2 comments:

sherry fundin said...

I grew up in Flint Michigan, General Motors country. Boy, it sure has changed up there now and not in a good way. I was raised in blue collar country and all that entails. I tell my hubby he came from a "rich" background (but he really didn't) because they used to vacation every summer at Cape Cod. Funny how our perceptions are not always accurate. A great post and I agree with it all. ^_^


sherry @ fundinmental

p.m.terrell said...

You brought up a great point about perception, Sherry. It isn't just what we experience but how we perceive our experiences that also makes up who we are and how we write or interpret stories. Intriguing! Sorry to hear about Flint, Michigan. A lot has changed in our lifetimes hasn't it?