The Influence of Place on Your Character

besidetheocean2

 

What sort of creature was I growing up and living beside the ocean?

What sort of creature am I now living in the mountains?

 

 

There is an age-old argument about the role of genetics versus environment in a person’s development.  We’ve heard stories of identical twins, separated at birth, reared in different environments…how these twins share idiosyncratic traits though they haven’t “met.”  A preference for certain foods, a predisposition to particular physical ailments and even that they vacation on the same Florida Beach!  This seems to apply more to identical twins than fraternal for some reason.  Fascinating, right?

We can say that genetics influences our physical appearance, preferences, predispositions and some behaviors.  However, external environment is also an influential factor in development, lifestyle and opportunities.

My 17-year old grandson is taking an elective class, Human Geography.  Recently, we had an interesting discussion about how environment shapes development.  Of course, things cannot be separated out…it is not an either/or.  Can we safely say that both genetics and environment affect development?

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As a writer, what role does place play in the development of your character?  In a real sense, place is its own character.  This is not about using personification in describing place.  If place figures prominently in a story, then, it needs to be described.  As the writer, you explore and expose the relationship between your character(s) and their environment.

The harshness of the sou’wester storm in Maine causes your character to go indoors and batten the hatches for days on end.  They are forced to be reclusive.  Either they like this proscribed reclusiveness, they are apathetic towards it or they hate it!  Either way, there is a relationship between your character and these storms, this place.

There was a time that I didn’t enjoy reading long descriptive scenes in a novel.  I felt that they halted or interrupted the story.  I wanted paced action and dialogue to move the story along–quick revelations, rather than long, drawn out descriptive paragraphs.

These days, I have a better understanding of the value of effective descriptions of place.  And, when rendered well, I appreciate the relationship between character development and environment.

WRITING PROMPT:
Who would you be if you lived in the desert?  Or, if  you live in the desert already, who would you be if you lived by the ocean?  Take fifteen moments to describe a desert or an ocean scene.  Then, insert yourself there and show us who you are in relation to this, your environment.  Engage the spirit of imagination and play.  We’re not looking for exactness here.

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