I bet you thought today’s post would be about characters. Naw. We’re gonna talk about customs. I don’t know about you, but I’m an armchair adventurer who’s been to many places. When I pick up a book, one of the things that appeals to me is the setting. I want to see, smell, and experience the writer’s world. One way of doing that is taking me inside the traditions of the town, state or country. We become so familiar with our settings that we sometimes don’t realize that readers can’t visualize our backdrop unless we draw them in with pictures painted by our words.
It is said that familiarity breeds contempt and sometimes we take our characters and setting so much for granted that we don’t see the value in what might be a source of fascination for readers. I used to be surprized when critique partners wanted to know more about life in Jamaica and commented that I’d left out the character of the island. This interest from readers helped me grow as a writer since I was forced to stretch myself through observation.
What are the things that set Christmas celebrations in Jamaica apart from other countries? How is the school system different? How do the police operate? How is the justice system unique? How are family problems handled? What are the challenges commonly faced by people in a small community/country?
These are questions I answer in each novel, but in ways that are specific to each story. We humans are creatures of habit and over time we tend to take repetitive action, which become customs. It is the similarities and differences among us that make appreciate each other as world citizens. And it is these same quirks that become a source of interest for people who live diverse lifestyles.
For example, in the past (when there was no electricity to preserve bodies) people used to have a ‘set-up’ the night before a burial. Neighbours would come to sympathize with the family, eat, drink, sing and read the Bible. Then nine nights after the person’s death, there would be a ‘nine night’, that took the same form as the ‘set-up’. Nowadays, there is a ‘set-up’ every night, where people come to visit the family, expecting hospitality on each trip. Don’t ask me how people keep up with the expense of feeding a flock each evening, but this custom doesn't show any sign of dying any time soon.
Are there any customs in your community/state that other people would find remarkable?