In the store I work at, a little bird flew in through the two sets of automatic sliding doors, after whatever was telling him to come fluttering inside. He dodged through the metal rafters of the high ceiling, singing as he danced through the store. Then reality finally sets in. How did he get in? He dove down when he felt brave enough between customers, but couldn't seem to figure out that there was a path to follow. He could see the world outside, but couldn't seem to get there. Beyond the glass, there was a life he used to have. Other birds would fly by the window as he gazed, perched on a shelf. He refused any help, not believing anyone would set him back on the correct course. Home was just beyond reach.
There is something powerful about the feeling to return to a place of belonging. So much of our lives revolve around finding a place to call home. We keep building that home into something more and more familiar. As I write this, I keep distracting myself in the hunt for more geeky wall decorations for my new apartment. It won't feel like my own place until there is a Hobbit quote about food somewhere and a lightsaber over the mantle.
And that's just it. My apartment is mine. It's something that I take ownership of. There's more to ownership than just possession, though. There's something to be said about earning it. (And with the amount of spiders I've killed already, I'm earning the hell out of this place.) There's something about living in it. Making memories here. That's home.
When crafting stories as a writer, there is almost nothing more important that resonance with an audience. What connects people? What will make my readers understand where a character is coming from? How will they relate to the choices they are making? Some concepts are so universal that they create connection in some way with just about everyone. The story of home is one of those concepts.
But what is home?
How many stories in our literary culture have to do with home in some way? “There's no place like home.” One of the most famous movie quotes of all time in one of the most classic movies ever. Dorothy needs to get back home. What's funny, home in that movie is far from perfect, yet, she still has a powerful connection to it. The entire plot revolves around her getting back to the little farm in Kansas. Tornado alley...I mean, come on. Only the powerful connection to home could make you want to get back to that.
Home doesn't necessarily have to to be a specific place either. In Cormac McCarthy's The Road, a father and son live in a post-catastrophic America where the father remembers what it was like to have a normal life instead of wandering dangerous cannibal filled wastelands. Home for them is anywhere that feels safe, and more importantly, where they can be with each other. This story proves the concept of home can be something stripped of everything other than complete and utter survival. Yet even here, the concept still remains.
Even video games rely on this theme to provide you with connection to the characters. And sometimes, when you literally control a character, that becomes all the more important. Let's get real nerdy for a moment, which surely you are used to by now. Mass Effect is a science fiction series that has humanity as a newcomer to a galaxy that has already long established a galactic community. The plot revolves around you trying to make a name for humanity and get more respect and power for the little blue dot of Earth. Then the antagonists, the Reapers, are introduced and, in Lovecraftian style, they threaten to overpower and eradicate the lesser organics of every advanced civilization. The final act of the series begins with Earth being damn near destroyed and has you racing to get back with an army big enough to save it. Everything is about retaking humanity's home back. Suddenly home is a place where all of us belong, not just the individual. What does our collective identity look like without the most basic home we all share? Home can be communal.
One of the most interesting takes on home, when it's really broken down, comes from The Lord of the Rings. It seems basic enough at first glance. An epic quest to destroy an evil that threatens everything. Taken from the point of view of Hobbits, their home seems most important. And when it comes to comfort, the Shire just can't be topped. Green rolling hills, mild weather, fantastic beer in every corner, and homes built to highlight the nature around them, rather than destroy it. It doesn't get much better than that. Frodo, of course, bears what must be destroyed through the whole journey and it takes three books, hundreds upon hundreds of pages, and a ton of endings to get there. After all of it, he even has to re-earn his home in a struggle the movies left out when he gets back. Eventually, everything returns to normal and the Shire reverts to what it once was. Yet, it's no longer a home to Frodo. He has everything that should make it a home. It's familiar, his loved ones are there, he has taken true ownership of it, and it's a sanctuary from the wider world. Home is something internal for him.
The story of home is as personal as anything gets. It's what allows storytellers to work the concept into so many narratives. It's a dynamic concept. Dynamic concepts lead to dynamic stories.
This is just what a writer needs. A narrative focus that allows for an audience to place themselves and their own experience right into the framework. Those shared experiences, even though each experience is personal, allow true connection to the characters you are writing and the plot that's unfolding. I've said it before and I will say it again, Steven King says that every story needs resonance. When the reader closes the book and is still thinking about the story, you have achieved something special.
Back in my store, that little bird waited and waited, seeing home unable to find the right path. Finally, he trusted the people trying to help him, allowing them to hold him. They walked him outside to the other side of that glass, back to a place where he belonged.
Finding that place is something personal, yet something we take part in together. It takes trust, a little risk, and a journey worth telling a story about. Home is something familiar, somewhere safe and comforting, a place full of shared memories, and something that we feel personally, in unique ways. The story of home is being told again and again, each time revealing something new.