Tuesday, February 7, 2012

TTYU Retro: What "Home" Means - to your character and your story

What is home? What "says home" to you? What does "home" mean?

I came across this link on Twitter, and the moment I started reading it, I knew I'd have to talk about it. Here's a quote from Melissa Crytzer Fry's post:

Home … what defines it? Grandma’s old farmhouse? The whirr of traffic buzzing past the highway in front of your childhood home? Pepsi in a glass bottle from the upright dispenser in Uncle Bob’s auto shop, tugged from its individual, circular cubby behind the swinging glass door? The bleating horns of cabs in front of your urban apartment? The aroma of the Italian bakery on the corner? Family dinners around a bonfire? The dusty smell of soaked creosote bushes after a desert rain?

What I love about this post - and about the comments that follow it - is that it gets people writing down the sensory perceptions that they associate with this highly emotional concept. Because that's what "home" is. It's a fundamental emotional concept that we've learned, and once we've established it, it continues to exist at our core. As Melissa and her commenters remark, sometimes the concept of home can be expanded, or can be associated with more than one location. What she also points out is that it's fundamental to a writer, and can have enormous influence on a writer's stories.

What I'd like to point out is that it's not just fundamental to a writer. It's fundamental to every character in your story. Do you feel different when you're away from home? More scared? More free? Sure - and so will your characters. Furthermore, the stranger your characters are, the more unexpected their concept of home may be. When Bilbo wants to comfort himself, he thinks about teatime at his home in the hobbit-hole. Frodo thinks of the Shire too - and the contrast between their emotional roots and the adventures and terrors they're going through add an amazing amount of dimension to the stories we read. Mind you, if it were me, I'd like to know what Legolas and Gimli think of as home, too... and Gandalf. Why not?

Particularly if you're getting into a character's head, think about "what means home" to this person. Maybe they don't have a home. But if they don't, does that mean that "home" turns into an idea that other people push on them, something that causes them anger? That knowledge is still valuable.

Melissa Crytser Fry mentions that there are writers who write only stories that occur in their own home settings. When we write science fiction and fantasy... um, we're not doing that. But that doesn't mean we can't learn from what those writers accomplish. Take a look at how the commenters in this post speak of their own homes (this ties back to my post Interviewing Characters? Interview Yourself!). Your human characters will likely have a home that they think about in a very similar way, and which they compare to their current experiences. Even your alien or fantasy-race creatures probably have a concept of home. If you can capture it, and capture how your characters think about it, then it will bring depth and realism to even the most far-out speculative fiction.

It's something to think about.


  1. Awesome concept! I've done the whole interview-your-character thing. In fact I have a whole dossier on my main & secondary characters. I know their backstories, their motivations, and so on.

    But the question of "home" is a pointed & potentially poignant one for my MC. I will have to consider it carefully & may come up with some surprising answers. And I have you to thank for that!

    1. Monica, thanks for your comment! I'm glad you found the idea inspiring.