Writing the Midwest: On place

“Writing the Midwest” is a recurring series featuring writing advice from today’s most prolific authors. Whether it’s dealing with writer’s block, knowing when a piece is finished, or how and where to find inspiration, we’re delighted to present to you the very best guidance to help you and your writing. You can find links to the authors’ full interviews below.

On place:

Tania James: Setting is often central to my stories, in that my characters are often bumping up against their environments, trying to come to terms with the worlds and communities in which they find themselves. And in life, as in fiction, place often informs the people we become—the jobs we take, the friends we make (or don’t).

Marisa Silver: I think character is inextricable from the place in which that character lives. Decisions a person makes about small things such as what to wear on any given day, and big things like what kind of work will he find to support his family, as well as a character’s sensory experience of his or her body in is utterly affected by place. So when I develop characters and stories, I must know how people respond to the place in which they live.

Laura Donnelly: I know that living most of my life in the Midwest has influenced my writing, but the how and why of that is tricky to pin down. Because the Midwest is never one thing, much too big for that, I worry that I fall upon stereotypes when I talk about it. (And that itself feels paradoxically Midwestern, that hesitation to make large assertions.) I see its influence in my tendency towards quiet. Towards listening. A desire not to assume too much, which I sometimes have to work against. I think it’s there, too, in my interest in what happens behind the quiet of the small town’s façade. Both the beauties and horrors we find there. And then the landscape floods its way through, not so much the flat cornfields of the Midwest, but the lakes and dunes and snow of Michigan.

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