When A Town Becomes a Character

ACFWAuthors and writing, Friends of ACFW, research, Setting, writing 1 Comment

By Lisa Schnedler

There are towns that you visit—or perhaps ones you have lived in—that are so unique, so special, that they seem to have a personality all their own.

When a town has a distinct personality—and is the backdrop of a novel—the town itself becomes a “character” in the story.

Bentonsport is such a town and is the setting of my new novel, Bentonsport, A Christmas Story.

Bentonsport is a town of just 42 residents, and my husband and I are blessed to be part of that 42. Once a bustling river town with mills along the riverbank, steamboats carrying cargo and passengers to and from the town, and trains chugging prosperity to and from its station, the village nearly disappeared with the end of river traffic and the development of major highways which bypassed it.

But, there was something special about the town that spoke to visitors in its nearly abandoned state—as it spoke to visitors long ago. The serene landscape, undulating hills, and soft churn of the Des Moines River beckon to those who want to slow down a bit and focus on the art of living—and on art.

Over the past 30 years, this tiny town of historic homes and bucolic scenery has become the home to many artists –a weaver, blacksmith, potter, watercolor artist, writer, and sculptor, to name a few. They restored the houses, set up shops, reopened the inn, and held events celebrating history and art.

They formed the Bentonsport Improvement Association, which turned the old truss bridge spanning the Des Moines River into a walking bridge; restored the Presbyterian Church; rebuilt a former pickle factory into a community center; worked with an instructor to reopen the local academy building.

The town that grew on the riverbank more than a century before—attracting those wanting to create a new future and to see their dreams come to life—attracted a new generation desiring to do the same.

And today, thousands of tourists come to experience the tiny town, walk the rose garden, fish from the riverbank, visit the shops, stay at the inn, and enjoy stepping back in time.

Bentonsport, rich with history and beauty, lent itself nicely to become not only the backdrop—but another “character” in my novel.

Just as readers fall in love with many individuals in our novels because they can relate to them, readers can fall in love with the settings of our books because they fulfill a desire in their hearts—excitement, serenity, opportunity, beauty—whatever they hold dear. And, the more we develop our settings, the richer the experience!

In the case of my novel, which involves two people from two eras, who fall in love two weeks before Christmas, I was able to bring to life the Bentonsport of the 1870s—as well as the Bentonsport of today. I focused on the smells—the woodsmoke in the air and the spices in the General Store. I brought out the sounds—the ice breaking on the river and the quiet of the town at night.

Whether the setting of your novel is an actual town with a history you can reference or a place you bring to life through your imagination, think about how you can add depth and richness to that place so that your reader not only wants to meet your characters but also wants to settle into their town or neighborhood.

Lisa Schnedler writes cozy romances. She is a certified Christian Life Coach, with a Christian life planning ministry, Branch Living, to help Christians live out their God-given purposes. She is president of a health system in Wisconsin. She is a pastor’s wife, mother of three, and grandmother of six.





Comments 1

  1. The fabric of the hopes and dreams,
    bleak despair and sudden grace
    all lend thread unto the seams
    that can turn a nameless place
    into something deep and more
    than sum of its human parts;
    something God intended for
    the sheltering of souls and hearts,
    a spirit of a membership
    (as Holy Ghost makes God triune)
    that’s proof against the scourging whip,
    its guarding ramparts firmly hewn
    of the love arrived, that came
    when two were gathered in His name.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *