What's your favorite small town in literature? Mitford? Walnut Grove? Shirlee McCoy's Apple Valley? Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove?
Well, I'm going to start with Avonlea...
Anne of Green Gables, the quaint old town, the beautiful farms, the coastlines of Prince Edward Island, the sea breezes, the waving grasses, the Avenue (that Anne re-christened "The White Way of Delight" and Rachel and the general store and Matthew and Marilla and Gilbert Blythe and the school house and the ridgepole of the barn and the dinghy that sank while playing Camelot...
So many things to love about Prince Edward Island!
So that would be my number one pic because I could just feel the beauty of that place and the joy of a young girl finally finding her place... right there with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert.
But not everyone lives on an island, right? So we need to be able to create the place with what the majority of us are given, the sweet town next door... or our very own hometown!
I use elements of my hometown here in Hilton, NY and the surrounding towns all the time. I steal elements I love from one town/village and merge them with elements of another to create either the welcoming feel or the threatening despair depending on what's going on in that town at that time.
My two current series feature very different small towns. "At Home in Wishing Bridge" (#1 on Amazon right now for Christian Women's Fiction, thank you, readers!) is set in the fictional northern New York town of "Wishing Bridge".
Picture forested hills, narrow country roads winding up and down, curving here and there... Farmers fields rimmed with hedgerows of trees... Small towns dotting the landscape, towns that were bypassed by the interstate... old buildings, struggling infrastructure in places, but a town filled with faith and hope from the very beginning of the story. Sure, they know they're struggling but they're struggling together, and that makes all the difference. And then a pregnant young woman flies off the road and is rescued by the returning hero, Hale Jackson... and so the story begins. A young mother's sacrifice thwarted by choosing the interstate exit to Wishing Bridge. Welcome to Wishing Bridge became an Amazon bestseller and is still ranked at #4 on the Christian Women's Fiction bestseller list, so that's mighty sweet news to me and the publishers!
Wishing Bridge is a Hallmark-styled town. Down on its luck, and with so many young people moving away but circumstances combine with God's timing to bring several of those young people back... the three friends from foster care... Hale Jackson, the to-die-for deputy sheriff who wrecked his knee being an NFL quarterback... His brother Ben and their cousin Garrett... And a cast of realistic hometown regulars. Maggie and Jeb, an elderly couple who lost a daughter to anorexia, Avis Washington, the town midwife and woman of wisdom, the town's first responders, Brian Teague and Lita Szabo, manning the town's ambulance, Shannon Carter, an earnest little girl being raised by a dementia-riddled great-grandmother...
And Max, an unsung town hero, a man who has made it his goal to restore the town's buildings one by one... a man trying to make up for past mistakes by making a difference now. It's never just about the brick-and-mortar of the town or neighborhood.
It's about the people inside those places, making things happen.
What should your town "say"? Is it:
Busy with foot traffic
A pass-through, one-stoplight town
30 business town
50 business town
Does it have a school? Or is the central school two towns over?
A river? A creek? A pond? A lake? Water adds an element of peace and/or danger to a setting
Quaint businesses with curtains?
Amish businesses in town or along the way?
Clubs/gatherings/senior centers/libraries/town hall?
When you look at a town you discover several things: The smaller the town, the fewer the services offered, so be careful how you present services.
Some tiny towns have tiny police forces (I used this set up in Running on Empty, my bestselling book that faces the "Me, too" movement years before it became okay to talk about sexual abuse)...
Some bigger towns use the county sheriff. Make sure you check the localities around your location to find out what they use... then mimic it.
How do you want your town to affect the reader? With joy? Empathy? Secrets? Antagonism? Your fictional town can help set the tone for your story, your characters, your storytelling abilities as you pick and choose how people react and how the town's appearance and attitudes affect your characters.
Above all, be true to your town. If it's set up one way, don't change it abruptly, any more than you would a character's reaction time... Let it evolve, just like the character's arc evolves. To the good or to the bad, your small town becomes a living, breathing thing in the pages of your story and only you can control what kind of breath it needs.
So are you a small town book reader? Or are you more of a thriller, big city afficionado? Or a cozy mystery reader, another kind of book often set in small towns?
Leave a comment to have your name put into the cat dish for chance to win a brand new and absolutely beautiful copy of "At Home in Wishing Bridge", the newest bestseller in the "Wishing Bridge" series!
After surviving the streets of South Philly, Thea Anastas never
thought she’d wind up working in rural New York. But a call from a
friend in need convinced the nurse practitioner to make the trip. Now
her temporary position is making a difference in Wishing Bridge—though
Thea can’t afford to make a difference, to fill a gaping hole in the
sweet, small town. After all, the current medical practice is being
dissolved in three months, and bigger opportunities are luring her away…
partner, Dr. Ethan Brandenburg, has his own struggles: caring for his
orphaned niece and nephew and holding firm to his decision to leave
Wishing Bridge for a prestigious job in Chicago. Though Thea’s
no-nonsense advice in the office has been good for business, her
compassion in Ethan’s personal life has been good for his heart. But how
can he offer a commitment to a woman when they’re both about to say
Wishing Bridge may be surrounded by forests and farms,
but Thea is starting to realize that friendships and family form its
heart—and that what she wants in life and love may be right in front of
Award-winning author Ruth Logan Herne loves writing beautiful stories that help women grab strength and faith from the simple pages of a well-written story... so she's living her dream and doing something she loves: Helping others be the best they can be. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can visit her website ruthloganherne.com and please friend her on Facebook (Ruth Logan Herne)... she loves to chat with folks there.