“Thank God for the county lines that welcome you back in. When you were dying to get out.” — Carrie Underwood, “Thank God for Hometowns”
Though I am not a huge country music fan, a recent interview with Carrie Underwood really caught my ear while I was driving home. She said something like, “There’s never anything to do in your own town,” and described her own experience of getting out of a small town in Oklahoma. She’d felt like there was a whole world she had never seen, and then found that all she wanted to do was go home.
Not everyone feels that way about their hometown, of course. Some people grow up in giant cities with so much to offer that it takes a bit longer to grow tired of home. Samuel Johnson said, “…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” But perhaps this is less true today when we have easier access to a global outlook that can show us what London might be lacking—things you could find in a small lake village in the Swiss Alps, or a monastery in Tibet, or a sultry beach in Thailand, or even a small town in Oklahoma.
But if you had a decent childhood, your hometown is going to have a certain pull on you. When you drive through it, you’ll recognize familiar places and faces, and you’ll also realize where things have changed. You’ll hear about those who have never left home, those who left for a while, and then drifted back home, and those who left as soon as they could and have never looked back. Which one are you? And why?
Today’s Writing Exercise
Setting is often secondary to plot, but it can be a highly important plot device. Try letting your plot grow out of your setting.
They say to write what you know, so write a short story about your hometown, even if you don’t live there anymore. You can make it about why you left home, why you never left, why you wish you had left but didn’t, or why you want to go back to your hometown but can’t. Make it true or make it fiction, but put real places into the story. Include your favorite place to hang out as a kid, add in the scary abandoned house, the cranky neighbor’s place, the teen hangout, the grocery store you had to visit with your mom, the basement where you hung out with your friends.
Write the story first, then step back and think about why you wrote what you did. How do your hometown memories color what came out on the page?