Writing Excuses 7.8: The City as a Character

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Editor’s Note: This post has been written by Linda K. Strahl, an editor at the Jet Fuel Review. Her full bio can be found at the end of this post.

There is an atmosphere that can be created when an author sits down and writes their city, or just setting, as if it were a character. Characters have depth and eccentricities that we identify them by. Cities should be treated with the same care. Think of a film scene at a wide angle — you don’t just see the character running through a street with no real descriptors, no references as to where they are. You see the shot pan to a street sign as they run down the poorly lit pavement, as the director hints at the inevitable ending for a character. This is an example that I thought would be helpful as it explains the purpose behind why a scene is so important in a story.

This week the podcasters have a guest, Sarah Pinborough, a Horror, Mystery and Young Adult author who features some of her stories in London. She describes London as a “gritty place…[with] a kind of coldness,” in contrast to New York City’s fast pace. One of her main reasons for using London as a setting is its quality of survival that is needed in a dystopia setting. Sarah said that what is so interesting about London is that the city will never be fully known. It’s a place that an author and a reader get lost in, making it a perfect kind of character for us to look at.

In comparison Dan talks about his not-so-real town of Clayton, as his setting. Mary shows her method of getting out of an expected situational setting in Nashville, by burning down a theater that Roosevelt was ‘supposed’ to be in later on in the plot. Since it is an alternate history, she felt that it was simpler to just have the entire building out of the picture.

Keeping with the conversational flow, the key point that the podcasting group really wants us to remember is, “Don’t be lazy. Your mistakes will be noticed.” Sarah points out that one of her story plots had so many paranormal qualities that she used her knowledge of London to anchor the story. Dan also suggests that readers will notice the realism if you put it in the story.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Terror, by Dan Simmons, narrated by Simon Vance.

Writing Prompt: Take a city to which you have been, and set a chase scene there.

Editor’s Note: Linda K Strahl is a transfer student from University of Wisconsin- La Crosse, where she was studying Archaeology and minoring in Creative Writing. She came to Lewis University in Fall of 2010 to major in Creative Writing. After participating in the production of two plays at Phillip Lynch Theater she has become an enthusiastic dramaturg, and is contemplating a career as a researcher and playwriter.

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