Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Writing for a Setting in the Midwest

Dispelling Wisconsin Stereotypes… and corroborating a few of them

Whenever I have an idea for a new book I set up a ‘note sheet’ where I lay out my outline, write bio’s for my characters and pick a setting for my story. Then I go about research for said setting and try and learn as much as I can about it to write it accurately and believably. While I was doing this the other day I started to think that it would be so much easier to write a story that was set in Wisconsin, as this is where I’m from and still live, but the creative part of my brain is just set on traveling. Still, this got me thinking that there may be other authors out there who are looking to mentally travel to my state with their books. So, I thought I’d help everyone out with a little post about my home state.
Wisconsin has been a popular setting for TV shows, movies, and books for years. Most people will know That 70’s Show, Happy Days, and Laverne and Shirley, were all set in Wisconsin, and so was Tommy Boy, Dawn of the Dead, Wayne’s World, as well as some of my favorite books including Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub. And, for the most part they depict Wisconsin fairly accurately, however there are still a lot of stereotypes out there, and while some of them are true others are dead wrong. So, for anyone out there thinking about writing a story set in the mid-west you might find this post helpful.


Everyone in Wisconsin is fat. I hate this one the most, because it’s so far from the truth. Yes, we love our cheese curds and cream puffs at the state fair (or at least I do), but not everyone in the state of Wisconsin is overweight, in fact Wisconsinites have a relatively healthy weight in comparison to all fifty states. The most obese state in the US is actually Mississippi. Wisconsin doesn’t even make it into the top ten most overweight states, instead were dead center at number 25.

Wisconsinites love cheese! Okay, so this one is true… kind of. It’s not like anything in my daily life has anything to do with cheese, and I don’t think I like it any more than someone from any other state, but I do like deep fried cheese curds (which I get every time I go to Culvers) and a good cheeseburger from time to time. There are a lot of little cheese shops here and there in Wisconsin. Particularly if you go to the Wisconsin Dells you’re bound to see a shop with a big ceramic cow or mouse outside. We make a lot of cheese here, and a lot of different kinds of cheese and it’s all pretty good.
Yes, we do drink that much, and we’re proud of it. I’m not saying this is a good thing, especially when I’ve seen close friends deal with drunk driving charges and go through AA, but the truth is in Wisconsin we can drink a lot and most of us would challenge to drink you under the table any day. And, in truth, we probably could. We're often considered Binge Drinkers. A standard mixed drink (for the rest of the country) is about a shot and a half. In Wisconsin, in most bars (of which each town has more than a few) you’ll most likely receive two and a half per mixer. I've even had friends go on vacation and try to compete in out of state drinking competitions and were not allowed to play simply because they were from Wisco.

Rednecks. I personally don’t own an ounce of flannel. Are there some people here who drive big trucks and chew tobacco and shoot squirrels out of the backyard, yes, but I suspect no more than most other states. But, unlike in Tommy Boy, we don’t go ‘cow tipping’ for fun.
There’s lots of bikers. Ah, Harley Davidson this is your birthplace, and yes I’ll hear the bikers revving their engines as they drive down the road a few times in the summer, but it’s not like there’s bikers around all the time. I don’t know of any biker gangs and there aren’t strange men with long beards and leather vests walking around my home town.

Friday fish fries. This one is more of a fun fact than a stereotype. Any restaurant in the state of Wisconsin on a Friday night will have some kind of all fish fry special (often all you can eat). This started as a thing for Lent which calls for abstaining from most meat products, but now you’ll find Friday fish fries year round. I didn’t even realize this was a mid-west thing until I was visiting family out west and suggested going for a Friday fish fry to have everyone stare at me with blank expressions.
It’s cold in Wisconsin. In the winter this is true. In Wisconsin it’s not cold unless it’s thirty below (which even in the winter it isn’t every day), but what most people don’t realize is that our summers are very warm. June through September we have really nice weather. Our summers get hot and our springs and falls are cozy and cool. January and February, and really a lot of March can be quite cold, but I’ve always enjoyed getting to see all the seasons.

It’s all farmland. Yes, there are a lot of farms in Wisconsin, but we’re not all rolling hills and green acres with red barns and black and white cows. Milwaukee for example is home of Summerfest (the world’s largest music festival), and Madison of course is a big college town. As you go farther North and make your way toward Oshkosh, which is another big college town, or up to Green Bay you’ll see more farms along the way, some windmills as well, but there are still cities, populated cities with malls and movie theaters and all your typical city amenities.
We love the Packers… this is true. Enough said. One thing I will say is that I don’t think anyone tailgates like Wisconsinites do. I remember going to Brewers games when I lived closer to Milwaukee and my friends and I would spend more time drinking and grilling out in the parking lot than we would actually watching the game. (Now I’ve heard they don’t let you wait around in the parking lot that long anymore, but it was what everyone did when I was younger). Also, though I’ve never been to a Packer game (I’ve only ever watched them on TV, at the bar, with a bowl of chili and a beer in my hand…) I’ve heard stories of serious tailgaters sticking it out in the cold to not only party before the game, but to sit through the cold to watch it.

Anyone out there blogging about their state? Comment below.

For more Random Posts by Lauryn April, click here

2 comments:

  1. I just saw your post here and had to chuckle- I grew up in wisconsin and now live in ohio, so I get lot of those from my students. The hardest thing I find myself describing over and over again is winter. Yes, WI has a snowy winter most of the time (and my folks are still digging out from last week) but it is not the same. I dread winter here in OH. People cannot drive in snow and snow/slush as we get is so depressing because we don't get much sun (we get 5 more days of sun a year here than seattle) Back home winter is magical and snow is so much more bearable if there is sun to go with it!

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    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, and I completely agree about the snow here. We get a lot of it, actually I was digging my car out the other day, but at least (most of us) know how to drive in it. I was visiting family down south one year and they got only about an inch of snow and all the school were closed and people were driving like snails, it was so frustrating.

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