5 Harsh Realities of Setting a Story in a Hick Town

Village

Morelville is a hick town. It’s a figment of my imagination based, in part, on the real life tiny, unincorporated village (population around 400) that I live in. This imaginary rural place is set in the heart of the very real Muskingum County, Ohio with the County Seat, the City of Zanesville (population 25,435), as a back drop in my stories and sometimes as a major player. Zanesville can’t be classified as a hick town but it’s certainly surrounded by and influenced by them and it’s in those sorts of small town, hick town settings where Sheriff Melissa ‘Mel’ Crane lives and plies her trade and solves crimes as the County Sheriff.

The Urban Dictionary defines a hick town as:

1. A town with one, if any, stop light.
2. Most of the inhabitants drive trucks or other oversized SUV
3. Cow/horse pastures everywhere
4. If you’re lucky, 2 convenience stores, a gas station, and a liqour store
5. One road in and out
6. Usually full of Hicks, Rednecks, Country boys, and similar.
7. Most everyone knows each other and loves their town

Let’s examine those points and determine hick town status for the Morelville setting specifically, shall we?

  1. Morelville doesn’t have a stop light. You have to go to Zanesville to see one of those. Zanesville has many.

  2. People farm in and around Morelville and there’s no way to get around in the rolling foothills of the Appalachians in the winter without four wheel drive. Everyone owns some sort of truck or SUV.

  3. Cow and horse pastures are everywhere in the immediate vicinity of Morelville.

  4. Morelville has a general store where you can buy food, toiletries, hardware and feed, a gas station, a pizza shop and not much more. It’s a dry town where ‘liquor’ (read, BEER) has to be carried out from a bar out of town, out on the state route (see Book 4: Hitched and Tied, coming soon) or a gas station with a license to sell it in the next town over.

  5. There’s one main road into Morelville, period. It’s surrounded by farmland and forest on the other three sides so no road goes ‘through’ it. That’s not to say that there aren’t dirt tracks everywhere for the oil men, the loggers, the hunters and the moonshiners…especially the moonshiners who can get in and out of town without ever approaching the main road.

  6. Place a check mark here – it goes without saying.

  7. Ditto point six, above.

So what are the harsh realities of having such a town as a setting for stories? I’ll tell you:

Harsh Reality #1 – No Transient Coming and Going

Unless your setting is some sort of off the beaten path tourist attraction, you’re stuck with creating stories that involve only the usual residents, the occasional serviceman/deliveryman, out of town visitors and, once in a series, a drifter that just appears as if from nowhere. When you set your stories in a geographically separate local without any sort of tourism trade, you either need very strong characters that can carry your plot in one off stories or you need to consider having it be in close proximity to a slightly more urban local. The Morelville of my stories sits about a half hour away from Zanesville.

Harsh Reality #2 – Working with an Insular Environment

 People that don’t like tiny community living find a way out and they leave them. Others never stray far at all. They’re lifers. Some leave for a time, find they don’t like life outside the friendly confines of a tiny village or burg and they return. Many who live in the proverbial hick towns of the U.S. don’t much care what’s going on in the outside world or care about the changes in thought, customs and cultures. The world passes them by on these points.

Writing a story set in hick town from a socially progressive perspective just won’t ring true for your readers. That isn’t to say that you can’t have people of color, non-European nationalities or people with alternate lifestyles in your stories – far from it. It is to say that you have to walk a fine line to stay true to the mores of the typical hick town while introducing people and situations that are different without coming off as preachy and heavy handed.

Harsh Reality Number 3 – Everybody Knows Your Characters Business

Move into any small town anywhere and within a few hours of telling a single person your name and what house you’ve purchased or you’re renting, at least half the adults in the village will have heard all about you and, if anyone knows you or a family member of yours at all, within a day, the entire village will know or think that they know your life story. You have to write portions of your stories set in such locals with that in mind. There are no true secrets. People may have something slightly wrong or they may be missing a small piece of the puzzle but everybody knows something about everybody. Twist that fact and use it to your advantage.

In all of my books, Sheriff Mel Crane, of course, knows a lot of people and has learned a lot of things based on her day to day duties but, inside Morelville specifically, her own mother, Faye Crane, stepped up in books one and two and provided key pieces of information to her. Those came from a lifetime of living in one tiny area and being in tune with what’s going on there. That, and having a memory like a steel trap!

Harsh Reality #4 – You Have to Use Everything at Your Disposal

Make your setting a good one. Hick town doesn’t have to mean boring. Your characters have to have someplace to go and something to do besides stand around at the general store all day. Their environs, if you intend to write a series of books, can’t be an oasis in the desert. Readers will be bored if your entire book is conversation among people coming in and out of the barbershop or if it’s completely set inside of one home. Have grandpa take junior fishing, send the city girl out to the barn for something, have your main character stranded on a dirt road in the woods…you get the idea.

Harsh Reality #5 – Once You’ve Created it, You’re Stuck with It

If you intend to write a series of books, a saga or even just a couple of sequels, you best make darn sure you like the little hick town you’ve created. Why? Because you’re stuck with it. Readers will get to know it, hold it in their minds eye and take comfort in it. Taking your characters out of that setting for more than a couple of chapters if it’s, say a cozy mystery series set there, or for more than a book for just about anything else will turn your fans off.

When I created the Morelville series, I didn’t want to be completely tied to Morelville. Book one, Relic, leaned on it about 50% of the time and book two, Busy Bees did even more so but book three, Dana’s Dilemma, took place almost entirely out of town. My readers hadn’t come to expect the stories to be set all in one locale. For a spin off cozy mystery series that I’m contemplating, that won’t be the case. Morelville will be the center of the story universe. I’m glad I created a town that has some flexibility because I’m hoping for some crossover readers between the two series.

About Anne Hagan

I'm an East Central Ohio based government employee by day and a fiction author by night. I specialize in mystery fiction featuring lesbian sleuths and cozy fiction featuring women sleuths. I also dabble in romance especially romantic lesfic. I live with my wife and our dogs in a tiny town that’s even smaller than the Morelville of my first fiction series and we wouldn't have it any other way. My wife grew up here and she has always called this little village home. Though it’s an ultra-conservative rural community, we're surrounded here by family, longtime friends and many other wonderful people with open hearts and minds. My wife and I are the co-owners of a commercial haunted house: Hagan's House of Horrors. Much as my dream has always been to write fiction, hers has been to create it through the medium of horror. We went full commercial in 2015. Watch us as we grow!
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