Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Screen

A dairy farm of the type Otto grew up on

A dairy farm of the type Otto grew up on.

I have always been interested in set design. My roommate freshman year in college designed sets and went on to design for plays and musicals on Broadway and in other cities. I did some study of set design and was most interested in Shakespeare’s sets, which were non-existent. The players of his time acted on a bare stage with a few props. The dialogue and the theatergoers’ imaginations created the setting for the scene. Later on, of course, more elaborate stage designs became the norm, such as those for Les Miserables (stage musical version), whose designs (the fabulous rotating barricade set) are copyrighted. At the same time, plays such as Our Town had the barest of stage decorations–a few chairs, a couple of ladders for George and Emily to talk between their upstairs ‘bedrooms”– the audience supplied the rest.

The idea of the theater of the mind applies to novels as well. The writer needs just enough description to make the setting plausible and interesting. I don’t have a lot of scene description in my novel, focusing instead on events and the thoughts and conversations of the characters. Too much description, and the story bogs down. Too little, and the story doesn’t seem real.

I spent about four of my teen years on a farm, and that was enough to show me that I did not want to be a farmer. I admire farmers and the work they do, but it’s too hard and demanding for me. But I used my experience and my dislike of working on a farm to inform Otto’s feelings about his parents’ dairy farm. I think I understood enough of what’s involved in being on a farm to sketch out a convincing setting for the first part of the story.

I also set the opening of the story in Wisconsin because there were a number of German immigrants who settled there and took up farming. Pioneer Lake is fictional small town based on a number of small towns in Wisconsin.

I have to confess that I have never been to Wisconsin. I drew the portrait of the setting from research. And so, when the book comes out, read and enjoy it, and pay no attention to the man behind the screen.


About huckfinn47

I taught high school English for 32 years, all at Robinson High School in Fairfax, VA. My students called me "Mr. V," and I was fortunate to have some terrific young people in my classes. I have made contact with some of them, particularly on Facebook, and enjoy seeing what they're up to. My other nickname, given to me by our then assistant pastor Jim Vaught, is Lieutenant Dan, after the Gary Sinise character in Forrest Gump, one of my favorite movies. I never got anywhere near military service, so the name is somewhat ironic. I greatly admire our troops and respect their sacrifices. On the Wings of Morning is my first novel worth talking about.
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