A CITY WHERE THE STORY TAKES PLACE
GIL: “No, you can’t, you couldn’t pick one. I mean I can give you a checkmate argument for each side. You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can’t. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights, I mean, come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know,
is the hottest spot in the universe.” Paris
—Midnight in Paris, 2011, Woody Allen.
Setting is one of the fundamental elements of the story.
Most creative fiction books recommend young writers to start writing about what they already know. For instance, hometowns, or cities they have lived for a while. Sure enough, one is on safe ground. But I consider you can venture to write about a city you’ve never been to.
As if you were a journalist, why don’t you visit a new place? Try to collect details, interview some natives, and get some background information. And for those who can’t afford to travel, you can always browse the Internet, check Google Earth, question people by e-mail, and so on.
The key is to research the details of the place where you want to set the story. But you don’t have to use them all. Do you remember The Iceberg Theory? Hemingway stated,
“If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eight of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.”
Why should I use a particular place?
Settings help us to describe the story, reveal character treats, strengthen actions, create dynamism, convey emotions and feelings, and give credibility to the story. And ultimately they pull the readers in so that they can also experience them.
Some authors keep cities’ real names, showing them through their own perspective:
Brooklyn Foolies, Paul Auster è Brooklyn (NY).
§ I say Who, What, and Where!, Merce Cardus è
Miami Beach, New York,
§ Death in
Venice, Thomas Mann è . Venice
Others create a particular space, a Universe to anchor their story, but don’t reveal an exact location (mainly because it doesn’t exist).
§ Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling. è Somewhere in
Now, it’s your turn. Stroll an unfamiliar hood and afterward write a short story.
Remember to use all your senses—listen to the noises, perceive smells, take some pictures… You can also draw a map afterward.
Enjoy your writing!
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Copyright © 2012 by THE PYTHAGOREAN STORYTELLER. All rights reserved.