NOW, WHERE ARE YOU FROM?: CRAFTING PITCH PERFECT REGIONAL WRITING
Southern Gothic, rural noir, hello-to-all-that city stories. Every area of the United States has a distinct flavor and a genre all its own. You can learn the tropes by reading the genre, and decide on the narrative structures that best fit your story, but how do you capture the sound and feel of your regional setting without beating people over the head with it?
- Play it by ear. The most recognizable regional distinction is an accent. We’re all familiar with a Southern drawl or a broad Boston tone, but most regions have their own subtle differences in speech. If you’re not from around there, see if you can find local news or radio shows and listen carefully to the voices of the “real people,” not the announcers. To avoid falling into a potentially offensive zone of stereotyping, pay attention to the cadence of speech. Every region has a different rhythm that can telegraph mood and style better than page after page of intentionally-misspelled “dialect.”
- Flora and fauna. Plants and animals can do double duty in your story as both set dressing and symbolism. Kudzu, aka “the vine that ate the South,” can be deployed to great dramatic effect, while the oddity of plants in the city can be used to highlight interpersonal disconnect, as Sloane Crosley’s grape vine does in her essay collection, Look Alive Out There. Find out what animals and plants are native to your region—or not—and then make them work for you to enhance the scene.
- Stormy weather. Good ol’ dramatic weather. Sweltering heat, constant rain, dry and arid summer days where one spark could spell destruction. Like plants, weather is more than just background noise. Used appropriately, it can set the scene and ratchet up tension throughout the story. Whether it’s tornadoes or ten feet of snow, choose your weather accurately and wisely and it will serve you well.
Don’t feel limited by existing regional genres; create your own! How about Appalachian noir, or Midwestern magical realism? The possibilities are endless, and with a few key details, the flavor of the region will infuse your writing with that just-right taste.
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Leah Merrill is a Kansas City native and author of more than six impossible things. She leads the LGBT+ writers group QUILTBAG Writers and can be found blogging her feminist agenda at www.leahmerrillwrites.wordpress.com and on Twitter @la_mer92.