A Story’s Setting

Why do so many writers set their stories in hometowns, even if they haven’t lived there for many years? Because in those formative years, whether small town, city or suburb, so many of life’s firsts happened—when we were most aware and all our senses alert.

After nearly a lifetime of experiences, the first ones are still seared into my soul:

  • First smell of lake. Skin puckered and eyes bloodshot from staying in it from morning till dark, you smell like lake too. You are lake
  • First love. You grin so hard and so long your jaws ache, you kiss so hard your mouths bruise
  • First disappointment when he doesn’t show up; first heartbreak when you realize he’ll never show up
  • First taste of sugary doughnuts your palsied great-aunt Emma made in her kitchen. You thought she was an angel because she wore a white apron, white kerchief and lived in a cloud of white flour
  • First loon’s call. You think it’s calling to you, and it is. It’s all calling to you—the breeze unsettling the birches, canoe paddle slapping the water, conversation of Mergansers floating under the dock, a peeper chorus
  • First reflection.lake

I hope this blog post prompts a few memories of your own remarkable first experiences. I’d love to hear them…

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11 thoughts on “A Story’s Setting

  1. You just described last weekend at the lake…with the exception of the first love, first disappointment and first taste. 🙂 Throw in a beaver gliding across the bay slapping its tail and disappearing with a splash, and a black bear diving head first into a garbage pit and you have the complete package.

  2. There is no question those first experiences are burned into the brain. I grew up in a rather large city and can still feel, smell and hear the grittiness of sidewalks, the heat of those brick houses and see the muffled to the head passengers on the bus in winter. It is all there and I have often used those experiences in my poetry.

      • Welllll….We are still settling into our summer home and my studio needed complete organizing as well as flowers planted. But I did finish an old Truman Capote book as well as a couple of issues of Poetry magazine. One of the Wiman books is on my desk, ready to be re-read. I am over-ambitious. But when someone asks me if I have read any good books lately (which doesn’t happen often) I will have an answer. I am revising a poem now which goes back to the gritty streets days. Very difficult to write and difficult to revise. Thank you for asking. Good to hear from you.

  3. So true for me, as well–the special smells and tastes along with all the highs and lows of life back then when I didn’t really know a thing about how life worked! I dog paddled in sea of innocence.

  4. First crush on a girl … first car (sounds just like a guy, doesn’t it, but you need to understand that it was a 1956 red Ford Mustang convertible, not just any old car) … first date … first accident (in previously mentioned car) … first trophy … first kiss … first job … first camping experience (in Wisconsin) … first good friends … first marriage … I could go on! Haven’t been back in nearly 30 years, but the memories are still vivid.

  5. Love all the images! I’m there! Of course, my first thoughts are of food. First DQ. First A&W Root Beer. First time I ever got fired (and it was from the A&W Rootbeer stand). First mosquito bite of the season. 🙂 First walk in the woods — I’ll never forget the first time I looked up through spring-green birch leaves backlit by the sun. First really bad sunburn. Oh, now see what you’ve done! Great post. Thanks!

    • Hi Julie! And we probably experienced a few “firsts” together. That would be fun to write about. Your comment reminded me of my first poison ivy. 🙂

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