There’s an ongoing discussion about “place” as a character in writing. The generalization is there must be a reason why a story takes place in a specific local – as opposed to a generic location. The line of questioning starts with “why did you write the story in Paris?” and the only “good” reason is because the story couldn’t take place anywhere else. The justification, “because I love Paris”, or “I know Paris” isn’t a strong enough one. In fact – if you’re going to rely on location to inform your story, then the location is almost treated as a character.
I think we can see the same thing happening music. Is it a “Detroit Sound” or a “Kansas City Sound”? What’s the difference between the two? Clearly there’s a difference or we wouldn’t have East Coast Jazz and West Coast Jazz – not to mention the violent rivalry between East Coast and West Coast Rap.
Certain musical styles indicate place. Bossanova = Brazil, Conga = Cuba, Jazz = United States, Blues = The South, Bluegrass = Mountain people or hillbillies.
Today, when I heard Glu-Glu by Omar Sosa, I immediately got a sense of place; somewhere lush with birds; music of the jungle to my ear. Can you imagine this song being about a city? Some vast windswept sand dune? There are many songs like this. If you listen to Duke Ellington you’ll catch the same sense of place in “Pyramids” and “Echoes of the Jungle”.
I’m struggling with place and scope right now in my story. Clearly this story can only take place in Northern California since it’s about the Gold Rush. But the scope of the story is broader than just the Gold Rush. It also encompasses water management, rights, and use. The politics of water is a Western theme, rarely tackled outside of western stories. Sure, there are stories about the Mississippi – but they are confirmed to the people and politics of that one river. The river doesn’t really influence the whole region. Although I don’t want to dismiss the politics of New Orleans – and other cities along the Mississippi – the issues of water out west are much broader in scope and influence.
Anyway – currently my character inhabits four conflicting worlds. He lives in the mining world and the agricultural world and views Western politics in light of Southern policies during and after the Civil War. I find all of these topics terribly fascinating – yet worry I’m creating too broad of a picture. When I try to limit my scope I find myself saying, “But they’re related, how can you tell one story without the other?” I frequently find myself worrying that I’ve bitten off too big of a story for my first attempt. Yet, you have to start somewhere don’t you? I wonder if I should put aside this story – and write a more simple story. But if I’m honest with myself, I don’t think I’m a simple-storyteller. I’m much my father’s daughter. I can’t just tell you what time it is, I must tell you the history of watch making. I cannot just tell you about a piece of music I like; I must anchor it with history and meaning.
I awoke at 4:30 this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. Josiah is writing a letter home about the politics of land reclamation and flood control. He also has another letter discussing his younger brother’s decision to join the 1st North Carolina Cavalry in support of the southern cause and his own to not return home, but to stay out west. At least one of these letters needs to be finished for tonight’s class. I hope I’m productive in wrapping them up over lunch.