Just as in any movie or play, the stage needs to be set in order for the story to begin. Writing a novel is no different. The reader needs to see in words the sense of the place where the story is to start. That way, when the characters enter, the reader has a feeling for what they are seeing and experiencing as they react and bring the reader along with them.
Almost every location has a history, short or long, surface or depth. The characters will be aware of such background, even if the place information appears as brief as when a car or train passes by—for something is there and it is being passed by. Here is where the story line (and nascent plot) get underway, as the characters, existing in their environment, unfold.
For history references in America, local—that is specific to the stage setting— is best, but often the writer needs to paint a more historical picture, perhaps back to the Civil War, or even American independence. But only through the eyes and the mind of the main character in the process of setting the tone for his or her mood or mind set. How the character thinks of this bit of history—favorable or critical— becomes a trait of that character as he or she approaches the story line. For examples, I cite the openings of two of my novels, The Landscape of Time and Marcel Proust in Taos. But you may differ and want to argue with me, your opinions I would welcome.
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