When writing fiction we normally either start with Plot, Character, or Place. Many would probably say in that order. However, I have found that I start with Place, then put one or more Characters in that place (and have them interact), and let them 'tell me' the plot. Perhaps I start with place because of an emphasis in my family history research that I have developed on locating my ancestors first by where they were, and where they moved, along their timelines of their histories.
In developing The Homeplace Series of stories, using my family history research as inspiration, I have had the opportunity to 'create a place.' This 'place' has some characteristics of where I grew up, some characteristics I've drawn from the places my ancestors lived, and some characteristics I would like to have had in a place if I'd had the opportunity to 'pick a place' as I chose. It has been extremely satisfying to 'create this place.' It is a world I thorough enjoy inhabiting as I create and share stories with my characters and with my readers.
My initial novels were set in 1987 and 1996 in 'this place' - but the most fun, frankly, has been going back to 1833 and envisioning 'this place' as it grew over 150 plus years. Much of this 'creation' comes from family history research and much comes from local history research in the area where 'this place' is said to exist. 'This place' was devastated by the Civil War - representing the actual events of the region, as recorded in local histories, newspapers and other accounts of the time. The recovery was slow and painful. These stories are being told in Short Stories with an overarching narrative theme of the rise, the fall, and the rebirth of 'this place' - a small community in a rural valley set in the north west corner of Shannon County, Missouri, in the Ozarks Mountain region, along a fictional western branch of the Current River dubbed Oak Creek. The town in Oak Springs.
In the first novel, "Back to the Homeplace," the matriarch leaves a video will for her four children that is intended to keep the family farm that had been in her family more than 150 years intact and not split up and/or sold. With this concept still firmly in my mind, for the second novel which is set nine years later, "The Homeplace Revisited," some of the characters started looking seriously at their family history to try to begin to understand why the 'matriarch' had such strong feelings about this.
This, of course, called for a 'backstory" which is still being filled in - although the skeletal outline in largely in place. You can read the early Short Stories of the Founding of the Homeplace (the first two of which were earlier published in an Ozark Writers' Anthology a couple of years ago) on my blog: The Homeplace Series.
The Civil War Short Story has been sent to be included in this year's version of the Ozark Writer's Anthology. In any event, it will be published in a Short Story Collection in 2014 that will bring all these stories of 'place' together.
Characters are required for the story to emerge, but I seem to start with place. Perhaps you can now see why I do that. What will your approach be? What has it been? Would you consider place as 'the place' to start? I'd love to hear your comments and your answers to these questions. I love to hear from you. Please write! ;-)
Families are Forever! ;-)
Photo image courtesy of Jessica Lewis August 3, 2013