I was writing the other day, trying to get a picture of the scene so I could decide just how close everybody had to be. My mind wandered off, thinking about how writers use scenery and all the nifty useful things they do with it. This did not, you understand, help me actually write, but it was a nice sneaky bit of procrastination.
Writers add scenery to a story so the characters are not floating around in an undifferentiated, moist white mist, which would be annoying for all concerned. We describe what the character sees and hears and touches and smells because it helps us reveal the interior of that person we're creating. It makes them real.
“When good Americans die, they go to Paris.” Oscar Wilde
But then, if you’re lucky, the scenery goes off and acquires a personality all in itself.
When I put my people in Paris, I want the reader to feel the city all around. I want bakeries in the Marais with the smell of bread on the wind. I want cafe tables on the Left Bank.
“We'll always have Paris.”
I want London with its East End slums and the smell of dank fog rolling off the Thames. London with intimate, small alleys and cobbles underfoot.
London is too full of fogs and serious people. Whether the fogs produce the serious people, or whether the serious people produce the fogs, I don't know. Oscar Wilde
But I want more.
I create my people, hoping readers will like them and be intrigued by them. I spin them out of men and women I've known and fiction I've read and from little parts of myself. I make my cities the same way, from history books and old paintings, from fiction, from walking down their streets and from my imagination of them.
I grow fond of the cities I make. My fictional London with its Secret Spy Headquarters at Meeks Street and its Den of Thieves. My Paris with its winding alleys and places of stark and dangerous beauty.
And in the end, when I give my characters to my readers, I find I also want to bring readers to my fictional city and the real city and say, “Dearest Reader, meet Paris. You two have so much in common. I’m sure you’ll have a lot to talk about. Paris, my dear, meet Reader.”
Do you know a city or town that seems almost alive? A place you’d like to set a story in so other folks could learn to love it?