Thursday, December 27, 2012
USING LOCAL COLOR TO ENHANCE FICTION
Thanks for visiting us again in Seekerville, Fran! Fran McNabb is a Montlake author who published four sweet romance novels with Avalon. Her newest release is WINDSWEPT.
After growing up along the beaches and islands of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, Fran McNabb earned both her bachelor of science and master of education degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi. Over the years, she has taught English and journalism as well as presided over writing workshops. This love of the English language prompted her to pen sweet, engaging romances, most of which set along her native coastline. Today she lives on a quiet bayou harbor with her husband.
First I want to thank Cara Lynn James for inviting me to participate once again in the Seekerville blog. Cara and I have become great friends through our writing and spend quite a lot of time on the telephone bemoaning our writing problems and celebrating our writing successes. Everyone needs a friend like Cara, and it is because of that closeness that I dedicated my latest book to her. As I say in the dedication of WINDSWEPT, Cara always has a moment to listen. (She didn’t know I had dedicated this book to her when we talked about my being on the blog.) So thank you, Cara.
Today I’m writing about local color. I’m using the term loosely because as a former English teacher, I realize the Local Color Period refers to a specific time with definite characteristics. Today I want to talk about enhancing our writing by using what we will call local color.
We’ve all heard that writers should write what they know. This statement makes sense because when by doing so, authors can capture more than simple, surface facts. Anyone can find descriptions of an area by looking online and or by picking up bits and pieces of information in books, but to capture the feeling of the area, I think one has to have experienced it firsthand. The swaying of marsh grass in a bayou is something an author would want to put in a book if her character is traveling through a bayou channel on a boat or if her hero and heroine are sitting on a pier, but what about the less obvious, such as the smell of the bayou mud during low tide or the pesky mosquitos and flies during certain times of the year? This is part of what I call local color. Setting should always be important to a story, and by adding those things that locals experience, I think the writing comes alive for the reader.
Local color is more than simply describing what is seen and felt. What takes place in your story? Is it something that can happen anywhere in the world or is it particular to a specific spot? Authors who can capture the traditions and cultures of an area are more likely to have stories and characters that live and breathe. Why do characters do the things they do? How do they feel when doing those things?
In one of my books, I used a small hurricane to bring the hero and heroine together. If an author has never been through a hurricane, it might be difficult to capture the intensity of feelings during the preparations. If your heroine must evacuate, what does she take? Does she pick up family pictures or computers or items given to her by her children, decisions that must be made by those trying to escape a disaster. Delving into the reasons behind character’s actions gives insight into both the character and also the area in general.
Do your characters celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah in your book? How is it different from other area of the world? In my stories, if the characters sit down for Christmas brunch, they probably will have gumbo and potato salad. For dessert, they might nibble on a pusherata (a Yugoslavian pastry). A strange meal on Christmas morning? Not in my area of the world. My most wonderful memories of Christmas is being at my parent’s small home for an early brunch shared with friends and family who dropped in early to start their Christmas morning with Mom’s tasty gumbo.
If an author consciously or unconsciously writes local color, I’ll bet the reader will experience some degree of nostalgia, a theme found in the great Local Color writers such as Mark Twain. A sense of community and the way people strive to retain that feeling can only be felt by authors who have experienced the area they’re writing about.
Yes, it’s feasible to capture that same feeling even when an author writes about a different area from where she was reared, but usually those books involve some universal element that can be transferred. My latest book, WINDSWEPT, is set in 1837 Key West, FL. I’m not from Key West and have only visited it twice, but I felt something when I was there, something that transferred from my experience of living along the coast to this small island. When I visited the Wreckers’ Museum there, I was mesmerized with the history of the period and didn’t want to leave the museum. WINDSWEPT was easy to write because I felt the period. I could see myself walking the streets of Key West in the Nineteenth Century. I felt my heroine’s loneliness and fear as her ship was wrecked along the Florida reefs (no, I’ve never been shipwrecked, but I’ve been caught on the water in horrible weather), and I knew the sorrow of my hero from losing his family.
Writers should dig deep within themselves for inspiration for their books. They use what they know and hope their readers can experience some of the local color of the area they’re trying to capture. If they don’t, how can their stories come alive?
Cara again. Fran is giving away a copy of WINDSWEPT today. The winner can choose either a print or electronic copy. If you’d like to be in the drawing please leave your e-mail address with your comment.
En route to marry the fiancé handpicked by her father, Virginia Ames gets shipwrecked off the coast of the beautiful Florida Keys. Her rescuer, the dashing Captain Slader, is a wrecker who specializes in salvaging cargo from sunken vessels. As a native New Englander, Virginia grew up in wealth but felt most comfortable on the docks, among the ships. This special connection to the sea is one of the few things the privileged heiress and the rugged captain share. But mixed with the captain’s handsome looks, could this passion be enough to drive Virginia’s marriage plans off course?
Captain John Slader is no stranger to the winds of change himself. He’d once lost the thing he held most dear: his family. But now that those same winds have sent him the lovely Virginia, will he risk his heart yet again? Virginia’s fiancé, an up-and-coming politician, may be able to offer her a world of wealth and comfort—but could he cherish her as John would, with a love as boundless as the ocean itself?