“Crazy As A Road Lizard” – How To Add Community Flavor To Your Novel

A few days ago on my blog we had a goofy phrase contest and I titled this article after the winning quote by Pat Trainum. I absolutely loved the phrase crazy as a lizard, because it illustrates the richness of individual communities’ dialogue.

In Minnesota we would never say the phrase, “Crazy As A Road Lizard,” because its too cold for road lizards here. You might hear us say, “Crazy As A Loon.” The loon is our state bird.

In real life communities there are local phrases, jokes and centers of action like the local cafe. There is a style and rhythm to life that makes communities unique.

For example, if you are from a tourist town the locals may call themselves, ‘townies.’ They may all eat at a local cafe where the gossip mill keeps everyone up on the latest news. You may have a local crazy person, or house that people say is creepy. These are all flavors of a community.

My favorite community in a novel is Sanctuary, Oregon in Shattered Justice by Karen Ball. The town is full of local fun, right down to the population sign that includes 1/2 for the puppy everyone thinks is so tiny. We get a slice of the local cafe, where the owner makes everyone drink their milk. And the tone of mischief by local teens is blowing up outhouses.

There are several flavors to a community. Here are a few to include in your novel:

*Local Dialogue. There are always local phrases that communities say that are unique to an area.

*Relationship Ties. In small towns everyone knows everyone else and the rumor mill works overtime. In a bigger town the rich and the poor maybe divided by railroad tracks and they don’t mix.

*Local Smells. The bakery donuts, or the smell of the sea will create a specific memory for a reader. Then when you deviate from this, it’s impression will be greater.

*Visual Flavor. The best way to describe this is to compare Cracker Barrel to Ponderosa. The first has a flare of down home with rustic decor and a large hearth at the center. Ponderosa has western type decor with cattle flare. Find the visual flavor of your town and bring it to life.

*Heart Of The Community. What is the center of the community? Fishing industry, church, a common cause, etc. Show how the community will bond together by the heart.

*Local Sounds. The sound of a fog horn, sea gulls, traffic, night life, etc. This speaks of the life of the town.

*Local Legend. In Minnesota we have big foot and snipe hunting. There are sometimes local crazies or sport legends. Or even the occasional town pet.

What other flavors do you think are part of a community? Tell us a few of your local flavors.

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About Michelle Lim

Author Michelle Lim is the Brainstorming/Huddle Coach with My Book Therapy Press and the Midwest Zone Director for American Christian Fiction Writers. Michelle’s romantic suspense is represented by Karen Solem of Spencillhill Associates and has gained contest recognition in the Frasier, the Genesis, and the Phoenix Rattler, winning the Genesis in 2015 for her genre. Michelle writes devotionals for The Christian Pulse Online Magazine and Putting On The New. Since her nonfiction book release, Idea Sparking: How To Brainstorm Conflict In Your Novel, through public speaking and online chats Michelle helps writers discover the revolutionary power of brainstorming to bring new life to their stories.

12 thoughts on ““Crazy As A Road Lizard” – How To Add Community Flavor To Your Novel

  1. In our town, everyone waves, driving down the street, at stop lights, on the porch…some people even drive with their index finger off the steering wheel, ready to wiggle.

    • Michelle Lim says:

      That is hilarious!!

    • M. Saint-Germain says:

      This spring break we took Alanna, our six-year-old granddaughter, with us to Florida. People in the neighborhood there do this same thing. Everyone waves at everyone as they pass each other on the road. As we were doing our two-mile walk around the subdivision, Alanna said, “Mimi, how do you know so many people here?” I said, “I don’t know any of them. I’m just being friendly by waving.” She gave me this puzzled look like, I was crazy for waving at strangers.

  2. dtopliff says:

    I’m from WA/OR and wasn’t quite as amused by Sanctuary. I love Pat’s comment. My friendly younger son consistently greets people we pass when we go walking. Single women walking look startled, uncomfortable. I remind him that in big city areas, the rules are different.

  3. Michelle Lim says:

    Thanks for sharing this Delores! This is so true. It is a great way to make a country character look out of place in the city.

  4. jeannemt says:

    In Colorado you see “au natural” as the “look people sport. Lots of mountain bikes, mud on vehicles, especially after a rain/snow storm, neighbors who are friendly out walking their dogs at all times of the day.

    You bring up good things to consider, Michelle. I need to work more on building a community in my book. 🙂 Thanks for making me think about where I live.

  5. Michelle Lim says:

    You bet, Jeanne. It is easy to get so caught up in the mechanics of our story and the journey of our characters that we forget.

  6. My characters give directions using Mile Roads. This occasionally throws non-Michigan readers off, but in Michigan, yes, Twenty-Five Mile is the name of the road itself. (Think 8 Mile.) And yes, you can use numbers/spell them out interchangeably. We don’t care.

    Also, in book 1, a kid shows where another character lives by holding up his “Michigan mitten” hand and pointing to a specific point on his fingers. Michigan readers don’t even comment on this, but anyone not from Michigan thinks it’s hilarious. 😉

  7. M. Saint-Germain says:

    I live in north central Indiana–the orthopedic capital of the world. Our industry is in the bionic part business–we manufacture hips, knees, shoulders. So when we say, you’re hip, it has a whole new meaning. (My hubby worked in hip engineering and marketing so he was HIP for many years.)
    Amanda – I went to high school off of Eleven Mile Road in MI, so I’m right there with you. I LOVED their grid system. Here in Indiana we have curving county roads that run north and south one minute, then east and west the next. It’s SO confusing! Give me MI any time!

  8. […] Create Unexpected richness. Add interesting setting or some information that lets your reader learn something or experience […]

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