A 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.