My husband shared this great NY Times article with me, called The Power of the Particular:

My best theory is this: When we are children, we invent these detailed imaginary worlds that the child psychologists call “paracosms.” These landscapes, sometimes complete with imaginary beasts, heroes and laws, help us orient ourselves in reality. They are structured mental communities that help us understand the wider world.

We carry this need for paracosms into adulthood. It’s a paradox that the artists who have the widest global purchase are also the ones who have created the most local and distinctive story landscapes. [ . . . ]

Millions of people know the contours of these remote landscapes, their typical characters, story lines, corruptions and challenges. If you build a passionate and highly localized moral landscape, people will come.

In my inner life, I’m very attached to the concept of place. When I moved to Calgary I became near-obsessed with my Southern Ontario mythologies and used them as a way to anchor myself in the unfamiliar environment. My dreams during my Calgary time were set mostly in the suburban Ontario neighbourhood I grew up in. When I moved back to my home province, those dreams stopped instantly. Instead, I found myself mythologizing parts of Calgary. For instance, the small half-block area that the events of this post took place in.

What struck me as I read that article is I that am so particular about details when considering real-life settings, places I have actually lived or visited, yet I don’t do this nearly as much in my writing. At first I told myself, “Well, it’s because I write short stories.” But then, so does Alice Munro, and her settings are among some of the most vivid I can think of. Short story writing is a strange thing. You are always reminded to make every single word count, and not ramble on. But then you have writers like Munro and Margaret Drabble who write these long, unfolding short stories. (Of course, that brings up another question – can Alice Munro get away with it because she’s Alice Munro?) Perhaps I’m struggling to fit in somewhere between what I keep hearing a short story should be, and what it can be. I’m always trying finding that perfect balance when talking about location.

I’m actually working on a story right now that deals quite a bit with the setting, so this article comes at a good time. It’s given me a lot to think about!

Oh, and if this post reads as meandering, place the blame squarely on drowse-inducing cold meds. Goodnight!

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Sarah

    Good post! I get stuck between what I’ve learned and what I read all the time. I know there’s a level where you learn the rules and master them before you can break them, that kind of thing. But it’s often frustrating when you’re still in the process of trying to master them & you read someone who breaks them all so elegantly. Alice Munro being an example I too was just thinking of this morning.

    1. Samantha

      Glad you liked the post! Yes, it’s frustrating for sure (and Munro is so good that it drives me crazy), but one day maybe I’ll be “allowed” to break the rules. Then I’ll know I’ve arrived. ;)