Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wednesday Wisdom: Building a Community

 Last night, we went to a small pizza shop for dinner. It was Valentine's Day and I knew there wouldn't be many people there. This place has a sense of community, with people who care surrounding the customers. It was started by a few people from New York City (authentic, too...accent and all), who decided Green Bay, Wisconsin, needed some good pizza (I agree). The food is very good, taking me back to when I lived on the East Coast. They serve the type of pizza you can fold, with the grease dripping off the end. The walls are decorated with NYC memorabilia...a view of the city with the twin towers displayed, Yankees memorabilia for baseball fans, and tons of tons of pictures of celebrities who frequent New York (Joe Pesci, Robert DeNiro, etc.). That tiny shop has brought a sense of New York, their hometown community, to Green Bay. I get the sense that I've stepped out of the Wisconsin winter and right into downtown New York when I walk inside.

When you write a book, you truly need to establish a community for your characters, a place to call home, with friends surrounding them. Memorable characters and distant memories of what home used to be like will give your plots more life, grounding the reader to a setting.

Sometimes, the story takes place in a city or town that isn't the character's normal haunt. For example, in 'Get Me Out of Africa,' Kes was forced to travel to Zimbabwe by her awful boss, taking her out of her hometown of Denver. She was out of her element. But the 'community' for her became the people she met along the way, and eventually, she allowed her boss to become part of her community, trusting him more than ever by the end of the book.

Community will help define the setting, giving the characters something to believe in and to fight for. When you write, make sure you include how the community helps the character win their battles.

So who do you put in this community? I think of a community, somewhat like they had in the old west. I add in the following types of characters, some of whom overlap (for example, the main character might be the main authority figure for the community). Sometimes I let a character type out or add someone else in, but these are the basics.
  • the main character, who is the focus of the story (sometimes it's two people, struggling together)
  • an authority figure
  • a moral figure, to keep everyone on the up-and-up
  • the bad guy (sometimes, this isn't a person, but may be the setting, as in a hurricane)
  • comic relief
  • sidekick/confidante
  • family members
Who else do you add in your stories?


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