Sunday, November 8, 2009

Different place, Different time

The novel I am writing now is set in a college town which has its roots in the small Pennsylvania town where I spent six years acquiring two degrees. The details are different, of course. Because this is a work of fiction, I can take liberties, adding and subtracting people and places to suit the needs of my characters and plot.

Part of the fun of creating my fictional town is reliving - mentally, anyway - the experiences I had in the real one. As I write, I am amazed by how many memories and feelings readily resurface. I can't remember what I wore to work on Friday, but I can remember what I was wearing the night I met the guy I dated in grad school, the succession of apartments I lived in while I pursued my master's degree and the feelings that enveloped the campus during finals week. It's not at all difficult to remember being a freshman trying to find her niche, a sophomore living in a special interest house, a junior getting serious about coursework or a senior trying to imagine what the next year would bring.

In a very real sense, the campus and the town shaped the person I became, in part because I spent so much time there. And because I stayed beyond the typical four years, moving from campus to the previously mentioned succession of apartments while I worked on my master's degree, I developed a love and a respect for the town that made my college experience possible.

Using all of that as a starting point creates a special kind of challenge. The people I place in this fictional town can bring it to life - if I do it right - but because this is a work of fiction, the lives they lead must be different from the one I led. As a writer, I'm doing what all writers do - trying to imbue fictional characters with real and believable feelings in a real and believable place that is not exactly the same as I remember.

So, as I labor over my pages, I'm grateful for the nostalgia that keeps this project close to my heart, and therefore helps to keep me both motivated and honest. Even when it is fun, writing is hard work, and I am in awe of those who make it look easy.

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