Earlier this week when I wrote about going out on the Hogback on our family farm to think, read, and write, I realized not everyone knows that word. A hogback is simply a hill that slopes like the back of a hog, but on our farm it’s a specific place–The Hogback. It isn’t just any hill of that type–it’s a specific hill.
Which got me thinking about how places have language attached to them. On our farm, there’s the Indian Mound, Sheep Rock, the Rexroad Place, the Little Barn, the Gas Well, the Old House, and on and on. Most of you readers have a limited idea of what I’m talking about, but my parents, my brothers, and even some folks who live in the local community know exactly where the Rexroad Place is. It’s the property the Rexroad family used to own. Sheep Rock is the big rock you can see from the Evergreen Road where farmers used to shelter their sheep.
It’s almost like knowing a foreign language. And speaking that language ties me more deeply to the place–makes me feel like I belong in a singular way. So maybe I should offer a similar language in my novels. Give the characters a shorthand for the setting that the reader become privy to. Which then makes readers members of the “club.” And once readers have been initiated, maybe they’ll be more likely to stay . . .
In her Mitford series, Jan Karon gives Father Tim and Cynthia a language to describe the view from a particular point in town. It’s “the land of counterpane.” I like that I know that. Makes me feel like a local. Makes me want to return to Mitford first chance I get.
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