Monday, May 23, 2011

Where Does Your Story Take Place?

Portaferry, Northern Ireland

Setting is where a story takes place.

Ferry Street, Portaferry

Mary Mullin lived on Ferry Street, in 1820.

Portaferry Castle

This was her view in one direction.

Yellow gorse on hillside, Portaferry

This was her view in the other direction.

The neighbors lived here,

Or here,

The Square, Portaferry

And here's where she shopped on Saturdays.

Could there be a more picturesque setting for a life? Sheep in the meadows, cows in the corn, cobblestones, fog horns, waves slapping the rocks—but Mary probably didn't think her village was unique or charming. It was familiar. Maybe she was bored. Would she have dreamed her descendants would travel thousands of miles just to see where she lived?

Mary's daughters, seven greats later.

Their lives would have seemed exotic to her,

Even though, they live by the ocean, too.

But this is where they go on Saturdays,

And bored is spelled board for the modern Mullins.

Marty's house at 2025 Twin View Drive

Our recent trip to Europe was all about setting. In London, Ireland, and Vienna we noticed details to include in upcoming books: architecture, colors, neighborhoods, scenery. It occurred to me that where I grew up would be just as unique to someone from somewhere else.

Dee's house in Provo

Subdivisions and suburbs tell different stories than apartments and row houses.
They tell my story.

Mount Olympus, Salt Lake City

Mountains, canyons, deserts and snow—that's what's familiar to me.

Think about your childhood bedroom. Picture your backyard. Take a mental stroll through your first home. This is where the first chapter of your story takes place. Recall details with all five senses: the way the furnace smelled the first time it went on in the winter; the way the couch itched your bare legs while you watched Fury on Saturday morning; the wind rattling the screen above the bathtub; how paregoric tasted when you had an ear-ache; the flowered wallpaper on your mom's bedroom ceiling that matched her drapes and dust ruffle.

Settings are more than just the way things appear—they comprise values and traditions, attitudes and behavior. In case your 7th great-granddaughters are interested in you, make it a little easier for them. Was your house cozy, messy, smelly? Were you proud of it or embarrassed by it? Did the decor reflect the times? Write the details into your story.

"More than just compiling names, true family history is about saving people from obscurity. Names are important in genealogical research, but knowledge of the historic context in which our ancestors lived, the details of their lives, and the experiences that shaped their personalities are essential to our understanding of ourselves. In researching family, we're really researching ourselves."

What are five words that describe the setting for your story?


Diane said...

This is not my story, but the smell of a garage in the winter where it snows takes me back to my grandmother's house instantly.

Also now that I've been to China, I want to go back and read books again that take place there because I can imagine it better. I think that's true about any setting that I've actually been to.

Martha said...

Great post! I love your travel pictures and ideas for personal history.

Grandma Cebe said...

Marty - Since at some point, I want to make a hard copy of my blog,I hope I'm getting some of the settings right as I post to my blog. I haven't thought to much about writing for generations beyond my own immediate kids and grandkids. I better spend some time digging up the pictures of the houses that I lived in too.

polly said...

it's interesting the things about our past surroundings we hold dear. a few years ago on the kids and my annual tour of the old homes, our melodie ann house was being redecorated, so we all went inside. everything was torn apart, but downstairs in moms sewing room her yellow cupboards with her tole painted tulips- were still in tact. also, on the air vents the collage she had made out of patterns were still there. i wanted to scoop the whole room up and take it with me. i told the kids how mom would sit in her sewing room and sew while we watched bonanza on sunday nights. it was like stepping into the past.

The Grandmother Here said...

After my daughters had been to China they saw familiar things in the background in the movie Mulan.

kenju said...

What a good post!!

I think my five words would be: mountains, city, river, love and work.

Travelin'Oma said...

I can't post! What's the deal with blogger?

mama jo said...

that is so cute...especially since it's about my are so clever...