Thursday, December 2, 2010

Taming The South, Literally

Not long ago a young writer friend of mine asked a wonderful question. She had an idea for a short story or novel (I can’t remember which now) and she wanted it set in the South. She asked, in essence, how would she go about making it a real southern story for the reader. How could she make it sound like the South.

Several of us gave her one or another explanation. I’m going to give another one here for those who’ve asked themselves something similar. I’m going to talk only about the South, though, but the application works for any region of the world if you work at it.

When you grow up in or around the South like I did, you learn that the region isn’t just accent, dialect and humidity. All of those are part of it but only a part.

The South is a feeling, an attitude. It announces itself with the gentle morning mist rising from the bluegrass in early morning just as dawn is breaking in the summer. The moist softness of that warm air that passes across the skin like silk sheets on a muggy night sighs a greeting, teasing the face with caresses.

The South is the laughter erupting from the kitchen as women cook the meal that will burden the long wooden table with the weight of its caring bounty. It lulls the mind into daydreams on the sound of murmurs as the men folk reminisce on the porch after the evening meal. Those same cooks have their clatch of recipes, children’s tales, and worries long with the community news around that now unburdened kitchen fixture of a table.

All of these things combine to produce the atmosphere of that region of this country. Some find the speech, the people, the lifestyle too slow and lazy-seeming. Reasons abound for this misconception. The summer heat and humidity forces a body to slow down. Rushing around like most northerners would bring about heat-exhaustion and distress in the deep South.

Many in the north dismiss the genteel hospitality expressed by households down South. Nevertheless, hospitality still reigns supreme in small towns throughout those green and fertile hills. Whatever a family has is shared with those in greater need of it. A person will never go without food when in the presence of a Southerner. The attitude is modeled from birth to death. It is as natural as breathing and sometimes has a far greater lasting effect.

History has molded and shaped the people of the South differently than it has others. When many of the South knew that the Civil War was lost to the North, they packed up their families and as many good as they could manage and sailed away, never to return. They sailed ever southward. In the end they came to rest along side a great river in a land far more vast than any they’d ever known or seen.

Today the Confederate flag still flies over their city. The founding families still speak with the soft southern drawl and the ladies are still genteel. Their city is now one of the most unique in Brazil, South America. They called it Americana.

The language may be Portuguese now, but the attitude and customs are Old South. Corn bread and southern fried chicken remains a staple. It’s difficult to claim that the South died, when so many emigrated with their culture intact.

These examples are some of the things that make the South what it is and how it feels. Any book that portends to be of the South must contain it all and more to be successful. I learned it early, which was fortunate. I always recognize someone from the region, though not always the correct state.

For the writer to produce something believable about any region, great attention must be paid to the tiniest details of the atmosphere, gestures, personal by-play between people, and all the rest. All of it together produces the right feel, the right atmosphere.

That’s my take on things today. I hope I have given someone, anyone a better look at one aspect of creating reality on paper.

Take care all. Talk to y’all later.


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