I admit it; I was born in West Virginia. In fact, my entire family is from West Virginia. Growing up, I heard all the jokes, “West Virginia…one million people and fifteen last names.” The one I heard most often was, “How could you be from West Virginia, you have all your teeth?”
I was a year old when my family left West Virginia for the Washington, D.C. area. That was home for forty years. I often wonder if I would be the person I am today if my parents hadn’t decided to make a drastic move from West Virginia. Would I have married young and not gone to college? Would I have a job? How different would I really be?
I thought about this as I reviewed some of my earlier writing. I concentrated solely on my characters. I missed the world surrounding them and the impact the setting could have on their lives. The setting should have played an important role in how my characters talked, where they worked, how they dressed and how they socialized. Instead, my characters were having floating head conversations.
When I read a book, I expect the setting to ground me in the story in the most physical sense. I want to be provided with a time and place, but I don’t want the description to be so long it stops the flow of the narrative. The setting is more real if it unfolds slowly within the story, and brought to life with small details. Put some dirty dishes in the kitchen sink or a shattered window in the bedroom.
As a writer, if it’s easy to take my character from their current setting and drop them elsewhere, without a notable difference of who they are, I haven’t done my job. The type of world I create will determine the behaviors and reactions of my characters. I want them deeply affected by the time and place in which they live, but I have to be careful. Portraying a small town girl from West Virginia who only wears bib overalls, has no teeth and who says “Hey y’all” every time she speaks is an insult to my reader, especially if they’re from West Virginia.
I’m proud to say I was born in West Virginia; it’s a part of me and my heritage. Known for its scenic mountains and diverse topography, it’s a beautiful state. Despite its beauty and all it has to offer, I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today, if my parents hadn’t made the decision to move. They believed you could not get to where you want to be by staying where you are and for that, I’m grateful.
I’m curious, where were you born?