Creating your village – Donna Kauffman

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By Donna Kauffman

I love a small town romance. Those charismatic little villages where everyone knows your name, and your business! As a writer, I enjoy writing small town stories and the challenge of putting my main protagonists in a situation where they can’t really hide from what is happening, both around them and between them. Too many watching eyes! ♥

I’ve written several small town book series. The Cupcake Club books were set on a little island off the Georgia coast, where I got to play with not only small town life, but also island life. Fun! The Blueberry Cove series was set on a small coastal town in the northern reaches of Maine, and my upcoming series, which launches this summer, with Blue Hollow Falls, is set in my home area of the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwestern Virginia. There are many aspects of these series that are wildly different from each other, especially the settings, but they all have some core similarities as well.

When building a new, fictional small town, I start with location. Island life off the coast of Georgia will have distinctly different sights and scents, daily rhythms, occupational opportunities, and the like, than my little coastal Maine village did, or my Blue Ridge mountain town. Your wee village might be a figment of your well-developed imagination, but the place where you set it down is not.

Find those things that make your small town unique, that identify and help draw that mental picture in your readers’ minds. More importantly, how will those same elements play into whatever plot you devise? What is it like in the summer? In the winter? It is a tourist spot? Are weather conditions going to get in the way of my story? Or enhance it? Winter in Maine being entirely different from winter in Georgia, or winter in the mountains.

Once you’ve got your setting firmly in mind, it’s time to start thinking about who is going to populate your little village, in addition to your main protagonists. It’s easy to have a lobster fisherman in Maine, and a peach grove farmer in Georgia, but stretch yourself and go a little beyond the obvious as well.

Do your main protagonists have family? What is their role in your small town? As anyone from a wee village can tell you, your family lineage will be known to everyone who lives there, and folks who weren’t born there will always be “newcomers” even if they’d lived there the better part of their lives. Where do your characters fall on the small town family tree? Founding family? Newcomer? Beloved “townie” or ostracized outcast? And, of course, there is always the right and wrong side of “the tracks” even if your village doesn’t actually have a train line running through it. Where do your cast of characters live? What are the town politics, in a general sense. Does your town skew conservative? Is it more bohemian? How does that general attitude affect the relationship between your hero and heroine?

So many questions to ask. You may not know all the answers until you’re writing the first book, and for every question you answer, five more will spring to life. That can be a little daunting, but it’s also invigorating. The possibilities will begin to expand as your new world takes shape, presenting you with more plot choices, more potential twists and turns.

Start small, with what you know to be true, and what you know your plot requires, and build from there. Don’t overpopulate. Don’t confuse the reader with too many introductions too quickly.

Secondary characters, even “walk-ons” need a purpose if they’re being given “stage time” and that purpose needs to tie to directly to the plot. Make them memorable by giving them a valuable role, even if it’s momentary. Then they will add both color and texture to your town, and your story, rather than clutter it up unnecessarily. Give every character a little thought, make them unique and true. No cardboard cut-outs. Don’t be lazy.

Developing, building, and planting roots in my new village and introducing myself to each one of my villagers is one of my favorite parts of setting up a new series. Every element, big and small, builds on the charm that invites you, the writer, and eventually your reader, to settle in for a nice long visit, and look forward to returning when the current adventure is over. But beware! Whatever you dream up in Book 1, you’ll be stuck with in Book 4, and possibly Book 24 (if you’re lucky!) Plot and plan carefully. Have fun!

Donna Kauffman is the USA TODAY bestselling author of over 50 titles. Born in Washington, D.C., she now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Her latest novel, Blue Hollow Falls, is out now.

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