Jul 022015
 
Hometown context - a graphic of houses along a river

Adding hometown context can help your stories come to life

Your hometown comes to represent much more than the place you grew up. It’s your version of your state and country.

When we write about family members, ancestors, or ourselves, it’s important to give readers a glimpse of that hometown context. It helps explain worldview, values, and traditions. It helps them understand the personalities involved in our stories.

For instance, my hometown still colors my perception and understanding of events, even though I’ve now lived away from South Carolina as long as I lived there. It’s part of me. Though I’ve lived in the mid-west for over twenty years, I still consider myself a southerner.

Why it’s Important to Give Hometown Context to Your Stories

Our hometown is part of how we define ourselves. “Hometown” it goes beyond the geographical description of that place. It’s the neighborhood, the neighbors, and the place of worship and school we attended. That belonging was our first experience in being part of something bigger than ourselves.

That informs readers and gives them a point of reference as the story unfolds.

In The Psychology of Home: Why Where You Live Means so Much, Julie Beck points out that our society also recognizes that the place you come from is an important context. “The first thing we ask someone when we meet them, after their name, is where they are from, or the much more interestingly-phrased “where’s home for you?” We ask, not just to place a pushpin for them in our mental map of acquaintances, but because we recognize that the answer tells us something important about them. ”

Readers are “meeting” the characters of your past (as well as your past self) as you write. Knowing the hometown, home state, and home country orients readers. It also gives them a mechanism on how they can connect. Perhaps they are fellow southerners, fellow small town folk, or urbanite.

Hometown Context Lights Up Memory Cues

That hometown context is doubly important when your audience is familiar with the hometown. When you describe the town, readers remember their own context. They’ll remember their own experiences in that place. They might remember the smell of a town baker—or let’s be honest—manure. As they read, they’ll remember how it felt to be there.

Gathering Hometown Context Leads to Great Oral History Interview Questions

Realizing the importance of hometown context can help you formulate great oral history questions. When someone mentions where they came from, ask follow-up questions. Find out what the place was like. (Photos can be a great help! See Writing about Hometown Memories Made Easy for tips on finding them. ) For instance, if they were farmers, ask if most people in the area farmed. How did this affect school schedules? Was the area flat or hilly? What houses of worship did the local residents attend? Was the interviewee somewhat typical for that area? If not, how did they differ?

Your Turn:

How has hometown context changed the way you understood a story? What do you think is important to include?

Share your thoughts