I recently moved to California and have been mulling this over: When does a new place feel like home? Is it after you’ve figured out your living arrangements? When you string together a group of people to call your gaggle of friends? Home might happen when you become a regular somewhere, or when you finally figure out how to get someplace without having to map it out ahead of time. I realized that home is all of that and more. It’s something you build over time—the tiny connections to a place that eventually crescendo into a life that seemed to pop up out of nowhere. We construct these lives for ourselves, fitting together the pieces without having the final image that comes on the box’s cover. Having moved a lot over the years, I’ve come to define home as not just one place. Instead, I carry home with me in the memories I have made in all the places I’ve lived.
A great way to develop a character is to think about how he or she feels about home. Many of the books I’ve read in the fantasy and science fiction genre tend to treat home as a starting off point. The setting to receive a call to action in the hero’s journey. It makes sense. It gives the reader setup—a snapshot of the character’s life before things start to pick up. But I think as you write, keep in mind a person’s definition of home and how they feel about it. Think about how home changes in the following plots:
- a person forcefully taken from their home (kidnapped, prisoner of war, etc.) and made to live in a different environment they know nothing of or deem horrible (The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman)
- a person who leaves home for the thrill of adventure and something more than a provincial life. (almost any fantasy or sci-fi book, but one interesting example is Old Man’s War by John Scalzi)
- someone who runs away from home because they’re running away from a person, addiction, or a crime they’ve committed (The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton)
- someone who is trying to get home but is prevented because they are lost, captive to someone, or must first fulfill a task to get back (A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Philips and Stephan Talty)
- a person who feels their home is not safe emotionally because there is some stigma or shame or ridicule attached to it (Carrie by Stephen King)
- a person who can’t go home because it’s destroyed (The Road by Cormac McCarthy)
*All of the above mentioned books also are feature films except Old Man’s War (at the time of this post). Of course, I’d advise reading the book first. That’s going to help you the most since you’ll be writing, and not to mention the books are almost always better. But if you want a quick way to get an idea of how each story deals with home, the movies have solid ground as well.
Circumstances and people change; naturally, home does as well. How your character deals with home sets off how they deal with other things in their life. Keep home in mind when forming characters to flesh out some interesting plot ideas.
[Featured photo credit: Scott Robinson]