Reading is the most intense form of escapism. Within the confines of our mind we are able to create characters and images more real than any movie. What’s more, they are unique to us. No matter how descriptive the author, each of us will have a different image of what we have read.
Currently, popular reading habits lean towards the gritty, the grim and the grotesque. These works are fascinating on their own, but after a long day of work I would much rather escape into a world of beauty and peace, rather than one filled with war and strife.
These rolling green hills and grazing horses seem to be straight from an Anthony Trollope novel. A country church and a peaceful village offer all the excitement to be found in this out of the way place in the world. And really, what more excitement do you need?
Just as Trollope fascinated readers with his storm in a teacup style Barsetshire novels over 100 years ago, a domestic story can still captivate. Just because we are in the midst of a fad of epics and dystopian fantasy, does not make the timid novels of peaceful life any less appealing than ever before. After all, Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Anthony Trollope have stood the test of time- Even without the apocalyptic tragedies.
How might you rework the pastoral simplicity of the past in your own writing?
At first the themes seem so old fashioned, but the challenge of reworking this style into 21st century life offers an intriguing spin on a classic genre. As you reimagine this style, it is important to keep the fundamentals which make these genre timelessly appealing.
- A small community. A tight knit community creates a sense of connection between your reader and your characters. This doesn’t mean small towns are the only options for a setting. Close relationships can happen in big cities just as easily. The point is that your community should be built with recurring characters that know each other well.
- Low stakes drama. Nobody’s lives should be hanging in the balance here. Focus on family dramas, friendship issues, life changes.
- Distinct Characters. Since there is little of the extraordinary in these kinds of stories the characters need to be what attracts readers. Make each person unique and have a life of their own.
- Real life. Make your characters interact with the real world. Don’t place them in the elite of society. This type of story doesn’t deal with millionaires and rock stars. The majority of your readers should be able to relate to these characters. These characters should experience the daily struggles that the common people experience.
- Romance should have a role but not be the main plot. This genre is not to be confused with the small town life romances you might find at the bookstore.
I can think of a few examples of successful adaptations of this genre in recent years. Gilmore Girls is a hugely popular tv drama which uses all of these elements to reinvent this style. Recent books in this style include Where’d you go Bernadette? by Maria Semple and The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.
Can you think of any other examples in recent years? Please share your experience with this type of story- whether you read it, watched it, or are working on writing your own.