Homecoming

Ojai 031A few years ago, my family and I took a day trip to Ojai, California, a town we’d spent a few years in while my sisters and I were children. I hadn’t been there in nearly twenty years, but nothing had changed.

I didn’t spend many years there as a child, but Ojai was still a part of me. I still had fond memories of the playground at the church we attended, and the small tangelo orchard just behind the church campus. The small town charm of Ojai became a part of us in the short time that we lived there. And we are not the exception to the rule.

In fiction, you must remember that your character is as much a product of their environment as they are their genetics. Each semester, I have my students do an exercise that’s designed to develop the relationship between character and setting. I have them write a short scene in which their primary character returns to the town (or city) they call “home” after a twenty year absence. It should be clear from their scene the changes that have transpired in the town, and the changes that have transpired on the character. Imagine small-town hick moving to New York City to work on Wall Street. How does his home look to him now? Imagine big city girl moving to a small suburb in the high desert of California. Does she beg to go back, or does the slower pace of the desert grow on her?

I think of the old adage—you can take the Cowboy out of Texas, but you can’t take the Texas out of the Cowboy. It’s true, and not just for cowboys.

Where does your character come from? How is that evident in their desires? Their life philosophies? Their loves and hates? For fun, if you find your characters stale, put them in a new environment and watch them struggle, watch them flounder for a bit before they end up on their feet. You’ll learn a lot about them in the process.

9 Comments on Homecoming

  1. That old adage is very much true. I remember when I was younger my family and I packed up and can here to Victorville from Coltion. I’ll edmit that I was very stubern and not wonting to leave the place that I’ve called home to a town I never even heard of. When we arived, it was the usual small fish in a big pond type of thing, but now after years of living here I wouldn’t even dream of leaving. We don’t go down the hill very often, but when we do I always notices something different, changed. From the freeway to a house that is no longer there, or a remodaled park.Even though I do enjoy living in Victorville, I would love to go back.

  2. I feel that at heart, a person will always sorta be what they used to be but I do believe that people can change and adapt to their new environment. I know this from personal experience. When I moved from Phelan to Adelanto in the 6th grade, I was still the same person overall but I had adapted to living in a housing track with a bunch of neighbors and other kids as opposed to having only the kids at school and the one or two neighbors I had by me.

  3. As they say, home is where the heart is. Whether we admit it or not, we’ve all at least spent some time in a place that’s touched us on an emotional level. Funny how that works. Characters are the same way. Unless they’ve somehow lost their memory or have never left the place they were born (like a test subject never leaving his/her test chamber), one’s characters have most likely been somewhere that has been their home. It’s an important part of what makes characters believable.

  4. I can imagine how difficult it can be to move from one environment that you’ve lived in for a long time and then moving to a completely alternate place. It would be strange and very different. I’ve lived in the high desert my whole life so i can’t really imagine what life would be like anywhere else, but I can see myself adapting to the changes if I ever had to move somewhere else.

  5. Jonathan Calzada | September 14, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Reply

    you can’t take a person from their home without them missing it, while they would miss it there either may be better things to come or not. Homecoming is interesting because you see what you really missed and find out whether you left for a good reason or a bad one.

  6. I think its hard to move to a new place from somewhere you have lived for a while. I lived in Oklahoma for 8 years and most of my childhood was spent there. I think that the place a character is born or raised has a large effect on them.

  7. I believe in the old adage greatly, but to a certain extent in some cases. In my case, I’ve been taken out of the city that I call home and been forced to live in the mountains, but I will always return home and never considered the mountains my “home”. I also agree with Squid in the sense to say that home IS where the heart is. I had modeled a character, typically one that portrays me, that experiences great loss of her country, family, and friends because of a war . . . she gets her memory erased, but in the long run she could never forget what she loves most. It is definitely how the character copes with the situation that makes them, them.

  8. Amber (Squirrel) Hynes | September 15, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Reply

    i dont really kno what its like to leave home for a long time, other than vacations. i have, however, moved from a house (not very far from it, though) and gone back and said “wow, this place has really changed. i liked it better when we lived here” or something like that. but im using the whole thrown into a new environment thing with my character. she was born in the land of creatures like her, but instantly removed to earth, and 14 years later shes back, but really seeing the other deminsion for the first time

  9. It is very difficult leaving a place that you have basically lived all your life. When i moved from Bloomington to Phelan, i didn’t like being. Missing all the familiar places that I use to visit on a daily basis. the first few weeks were horrible, I wasn’t sure if i would like living in the middle of nowhere, but now I’ve grown quite use to living here. And like one of your characters they have lived in a place for a long time then they leave their home, they are going to feel like outcasts. But when they go back to where they used to live they will see their town as being foreign to them

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