Location, location, location…
Location, usually referred to as setting in literature, is the time and place of the events in a story. Basically, it helps to establish when, where, and (if it’s a good story) under what circumstances a story takes place. So let’s take a look at Lost Boy in relation to setting.
Where will Lost Boy take place? While revisiting previous posts, I realized that without thinking about it, I established the setting as North Carolina. Tammi (previously Tanisha; read K is for Kindred for the explanation on the name change) is suspected of having a side dude “down in Charlotte,” which would lead the sharp reader to assume that the events of the novel occur in a city north of Charlotte. And, as if to further confirm North Carolina as the state, Frank remembers it being ice cold on the day his father disappeared because of North Carolina’s bipolar weather patterns.
Well, I live in North Carolina. Who better to write and establish North Carolina as the setting for a story than an actual citizen?
So if North Carolina is the state, where’s the city? This is probably the harder question. We already know it has to be north of Charlotte, and relatively close to the Virginia boarder (because Frank drives to Virginia, following a lead on his missing five-year-old case). That would put it in counties like Guilford, Alamance, or Forsyth. Rockingham County, while along the Virginia border, might be a little too redneck for this type of story (we’ll look deeper into that later in this post). I also want to stay away from any city that would cause certain people I know to think the story is about them. I’ve considered the city of Durham. Durham has a very high black population, which would be relevant in this story. A high black population usually means (unfortunately) high poverty and high crime. The trailer park where Tammi’s parents live could easily be located in Durham.
Of course, if I do decide to use an actual city in North Carolina, my biggest concern would be how accurate my portrayal is. For example, a few months ago, I read a novel about a black zombie apocalypse (crazy novel! I’ll have to do a book review on it very soon). The first half of the novel took place in North Carolina, so of course I was reading through those pages with a fine-tooth comb. One part that really made me cringe was that the author put NC Central University in Raleigh. Noooo! NC Central is in Durham! I know Raleigh and Durham are close, but they are not the same! What made it so cringe-worthy was that NC Central, a historically black college, was the epicenter of this black zombie apocalypse. If the black population in Durham isn’t the majority yet, it’s pretty damn close. These three parts weigh huge significance in this type of story, and it’s essential that the author gets them right. Raleigh is too white for this kind of story. On top of that, it’s the state capital! It wouldn’t work. Needless to say, while I liked the book, it was very hard for me to get past that enormous blunder.
I don’t want that to happen with my novel. I don’t want citizens of Durham to stop and think, “Is there a SunTrust bank across the street from a Shell gas station?” “Is there a trailer park next to a shut down landfill?” “Is that street really one way?” etc. Which is why I am not totally against a made up city. Hey, if a fictional town is described well enough in a novel, people will swear out that it’s really. I’ve googled a few cities after reading a good book because I thought they actually existed.
Of course, then I would have to think of a name, and as you’ve seen with my title struggle (and also with Tanisha/Tammi’s name change), names aren’t always my forte. Which is why so often I would write a story where the main characters are simply referred to as I, him, or her (the Buried series is one example).
Maybe in a later post, I’ll have a fictional city/town sketched out for you. It would have to begin with the letters M through Z, the second half of the alphabet, so I’d better start brainstorming!
Not much to say here—Lost Boy takes place in present day. We will often be looking back on things that happened in the past (Antonio, Sr.’s death, Gio Maye’s disappearance), and how those events have affected the various characters in their present.
There’s also Aunt Bethel, who’s probably going to be a third or fourth tier character. Her character is not important to the plot of the story; she and her early onset dementia will probably serve only as comedic relief. But she could also be a reminder to Frank of his parents, Gio and Clara, which could create a lot of tension, again, because Gio’s disappearance was never closed. Bethel being there, her mind sometimes getting trapped in the past because of her dementia, wandering around, like Gio might have wandered, could help with necessary character development for Frank.
Setting doesn’t always have to mean time and place. It could also refer to the atmosphere or circumstances by which a story takes place. That could mean current events or things that have happened that would make characters think and act a certain way. Let’s look back at that zombie apocalypse novel I mentioned earlier. The time and place would be present day and North Carolina. Since the story is about surviving a zombie outbreak of black people, the areas to avoid would obviously be where there is a heavy concentration of black people—the projects, historically black universities like NC Central, which is in Durham! Also, because North Carolina is in the southern United States, racism will be a definite issue. A white person wouldn’t think twice about shooting a nigga in the head in this story. Is it because he’s black or because he could be a zombie? That fine line between killing for survival and killing because of race and prejudice is what I really liked about the novel.
Looking at Lost Boy, one of the circumstances would be poverty, in Gregory’s case. He’s a black man with no degree, he can’t keep a good paying job, he works off the record for his buddy’s landscaping and roofing company, he struggles to provide for his selfish fiancé, her two kids, and her needy family, they live in a poor neighborhood where there is high crime. All of this will play a part in Gregory’s downward spiral.
Then there’s the question of justice for the black man. Gregory robs a bank. And the bank teller, who is assumed to be black also, has pity on him. She fears that if he is caught, he could be shot and killed by police. Will Gregory even make it to trial if he is caught, and if so, how long will the sentence be? He didn’t kill anybody. He didn’t threaten anyone with a gun. He’s just a broke man desperate for money. Unfortunately, broke men desperate for money can often get years in prison. College boys serve less time for rape! It’s ridiculous how fucked up our justice system is.
So is it smart for Leslie to report him missing? Obviously, she doesn’t know that he robbed a bank, neither does Detective Maye, but if or when they find out, then what?
Another circumstance would be fatherhood/manhood, which I talked about in detail in F is for Fathers. Because of Gregory’s situation, it’s hard for him to be that father and that man that Antonio, Sr. had trained him up to be. This inability to pull himself up from the abyss could inadvertently lead to the continuation of the generational curse that has plagued black families since slavery.
We’ll look at another potential circumstance in the next post, which is closely related to fatherhood/manhood. Can you guess it?
Side note: I’m a day behind because I’ve been traveling for the holiday. I can’t guarantee “M” will go up tonight, but I will try my hardest to have it posted by Sunday so I can be back on schedule with “N.” Happy A to Z-ing!