Building a Small Town

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because I’d had a few glasses of wine. Don’t drink and post, authors!

In my email, I’ll often get a video from Dad. They most often contain something funny that he’s seen on YouTube about cats or babies (Dad has a lot of time on his hands during retirement and a smart phone) but sometimes, he’ll send something from one of our favorite Mississippi newscasters – Walt Grayson. As I’ve said before, I’m a history freak and Mr. Grayson provides wonderful video essays about life in Mississippi.

Much to my glee, I received a video about the small Mississippi town of Hot Coffee. Click the link to watch Mr. Grayson’s vignette: http://www.msnewsnow.com/story/22198071/walts-look-around-hot-coffee-ms

My grandmother lived not thirty miles from Hot Coffee in a small town named Prentiss. When I was a kid, I loved to visit her and all the relatives in the little town. There were so many things you could do there that you couldn’t do in the city like riding a horse down a gravel road, making ice cream on the front porch and trying to find a fox in the woods.

I never found a fox in all my summers there, but I happened upon what I thought was a raccoon. Turned out to be a skunk and I had to bathe in tomato juice. I think I told that story throughout my entire third grade year of elementary school embellishing it to include a mad dash through the forest at sunset. (Guess I was a storyteller, even then.)

As I grew older, I discovered something even more unique about small towns than wildlife and open spaces. There is a true abandonment of the present for the tribal past. Case in point is the way in which my grandmother gave directions. A typical answer for how to get to so-and-so would be – “Well you take a left where Silas Polk’s store burned down.” Then you’d get a detailed history of the Polk family in the area before my grandmother continued on to the next step in the directions. GPS can’t give you that kind of stuff.

Small Town USAWhen I decided to start writing the Amber and Kevin stories, I used the demography and physical layout of Prentiss as the basis for Kevin’s hometown. I simply moved the town to Texas, exchanged family farms for ranches and adjusted the weather patterns. This took little effort on my part as I’d spent a lifetime in Prentiss. So I was surprised that one of the beta readers for The Beginning of Forever commented about the town itself as if it were a character in the novella. She loved the location, the structure, and the inhabitants.

Fellow romance writers take heed. A small town shouldn’t be overlooked when choosing a story’s setting. There is so much already built into the work that it seems like cheating.

Characters: In a small town, you are known more by your family history than what you do for a living. For instance in Chicago, Michael Warner may be a renowned neurosurgeon on the A-List for any number of social events, but in his small Kentucky hometown, he’s one of those Warners from up along the ridge. They can’t hold down a job, you know?

Here’s our hero, a man battling against a hundred years of historical antidotes to claim his woman’s heart in the end.

Conflict: How about an idealistic big city transplant coming into a small town to make changes? The changes may make life better but threaten the status quo. Imagine being attracted to that person who is not only telling you that you’re doing it wrong but your entire extended family is doing it wrong, as well? Eek!

Paranormal: Whether you are writing about shifters, vampires or aliens, a small town would be a perfect congregation place far from glaring lights where news travels at a slower pace. Though be warned, creatures of the night, news does move with far more detail than a sound bite.

If you’re interested in creating a small town for your next work, the articles listed below may be helpful in jumpstarting your research.

The Smithsonian Magazine: The 20 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2013

Frommer’s: The Best Small Towns and Villages

Midwest Living: 100 Best Midwest Small-Town Getaways

Sunset: The West’s best places to live

Happy Writing!

~Val

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