Friday, September 18, 2015

Know Your Setting

Know your setting. This seems pretty straight forward. Right? Not always.

Hamilton Pool (Texas)
I had a critique partner from out of the country years ago who had a character visit Texas at one point in the manuscript. The character found herself there without knowing where she was, yes this makes sense in the manuscript. Thing is, it felt wrong. I grew up in Texas. Like from the time I was two weeks old until I was twenty-six, so I know a little about what living there is like. I suggested she have items in the kitchen with the state flag or the shape of Texas on items around the kitchen. If nothing, Texans are extremely proud of our state. We have stores dedicated to items with our state flag, shape, and anything Texas in general. This wasn't a very strange leap to take. I've been in those kitchens. Many times. But only in Texas. Never in my years living in New Jersey or visiting family in Utah and Wyoming. It's a Texas thing.

Flaming Gorge (Utah)
Speech is a big difference. Growing up I understood when someone asked if I wanted a Coke, it was a blanket term for any and all soft drinks. In NJ they looked at me like I was crazy calling them all Coke. My mom is from Utah, so growing up I knew to ask for a "pop" when I was visiting them. In NJ it's "soda." There are plenty of other little words that are different around the country. Knowing these little differences makes a huge difference in your manuscript.

Crystal Lake (Bayville, NJ)
One of the best stories I ever encountered was at my ex-sister-in-law's wedding. She had forgotten to mention one huge difference about getting gas in New Jersey. It's illegal for you to pump your own gas. At least that's what I was told. They have gas station attendants who do that for you. It's virtually impossible to pump your own gas without one of their authorization cards. There are shirts everywhere donning the phrase, "Jersey girls don't pump gas." So, her brother and his then pregnant wife (they're now divorced) drove into Jersey from out of state. He was sleeping while she drove, in the middle of the night. It was cold, dreary, and rainy. She pulled into a station to get gas. While she was fishing her credit card out of her purse a gas attendant walked up to her car window. It was cold and rainy. Naturally he had on a hoodie. She freaked out when she saw him, threw the car into gear, screamed, and screeched out of the parking lot. We all had quite a fun laugh.

But seriously, your characters cannot drive through New Jersey and pump their own gas. Likewise, your Jersey characters will have to get out of their cars in other states and pump their own gas. (This trips up Jersey girls, and irks them. lol) I have plenty other stories pertaining to getting gas in and outside of Jersey (with Jersey girls), which I may use in future manuscripts. Maybe. Getting gas is always more entertaining when it involves someone from Jersey. Trust me. 

The absolute last thing you want is a reader setting down the book because you've tripped them up with something that isn't plausible to them. This is why so many book settings are where the author is from. If you are going to place your book in a location you have never lived, you need to do your research.

And because I am now beyond curious. What is something unique to your state? 

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