Setting as character

SUMMARY: Ed Wilson talks about using setting as character

This morning it is cold, rainy, and the sun has yet to make an appearance. I decided to make a cup of coffee instead of tea this morning. It just seems like one of those sorts of days.

Luckily, I have a bag of Kona coffee. This particular coffee comes from the island Kauai in Hawaii. In a very real sense, the smells, the taste, the warmth all transport me back to when Teresa and I were on the island. I close my eyes, and visualize the blue skies, the green mountains, and the lush foliage that surrounds nearly everything on the island.

A strong sense of place exudes character

I know it is popular to write what one knows. I also know, from reading the FBI crime statistics, that murders happen everywhere. But to be brutally honest, some places are more interesting than other places. Maybe that is not entirely correct. Maybe what I mean is that some places are easier to make more interesting than other places.

This is because Mayberry RFD, and Petticoat Junction were both pretty boring places. I mean, if I were driving down the road, I do not think I would stop at Floyd’s barber shop and get my hair cut, and I most assuredly would not stop at the shady nook hotel and night of rest to get a room for the night. Especially with some old dude hogging the front porch, and some old scruffy dog laying across the steps. I believe I would hop back in the car, apologize to Teresa, and say something like, “Well it seemed like a good idea at the time.” I certainly would not stop at goobers garage to get a fill up. Nope, I would hope the fumes would carry me back to the Interstate.

But what does the previous excursion into nostalgic television reveal? The places were NOT character, it was the people: Uncle Joe, Andy, Goober, Floyd the barber … that made the places interesting. A wide dusty, dingy road, was not too exciting. Therefore if one happens to actually live in Dog Patch Tennessee, then one must populate the place with interesting people.

What is a strong place?

Well, Hawaii is an awesome place. Magnum PI, Hawaii Five O, both were great shows with a strong sense of place. I mean, Magnum was a rather boring person to be honest. He did have great hair, and an awesome mustache, but as a character he was really one dimensional. And the lounge lizard? Dude, I mean can I say flat cartoon? And Hawaii Five O? Come on, I mean nearly all of those characters were flat, and not all that likable. I found myself rooting for the bad guys. But the setting? The scenery? Awesome. So Hawaii exudes a strong sense of place, and becomes a character in the shows.

Of course, big cities – New York, LA, Miami all have a strong sense of place. But I do not want to simply read another “LA crime story.” I want to see something that is different, unique, where the character of the setting shines through. Don’t show the same old stuff, but portray a sense of place with an artists eye, an insiders knowledge of locale, and show how the story could only have taken place in this particular location.

Do that. Make me want to stop in Mayberry.

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