Loud Sex in Riverdale, Murder in Pre-Chaos, Concealment in El Monte

I don’t know what it is about Fifth Avenue… (I’ll explain this thought later in the post)

The tales in my work in progress are set (mainly) in New York and the Dominican Republic. I say “mainly” because as the stories progress, my characters might visit (or reside) in places like Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, rural Illinois, Washington, D.C.… and other locations where I’ve lived for a long time. And my writing future will probably take my tales to most of the places I’ve visited around the world.  

This doesn’t mean that my writing is autobiographical or anything of the sort. It’s just that before choosing the setting for a story, I ask myself many questions. For instance:
    - How can my characters escape from someone trying to killer them?
     - Where can my villains dispose of a body, or hide a kidnapped victim?
     - Will the plants of the area support the herb magic I’ll write into the tale?
     - How do people react to loud noises (i.e. gunshots, screaming, vociferous sex…)?
     - Why would any of my characters choose to live there?

The questions go on and on… and no, they don’t make it into the actual story. But somewhere between the dialogue and narrative, the reader understands:
     - Why Luna lives in one of the neediest neighborhoods of Pre-Chaos, NY (formerly Utica)
     - The significance of El Monte, Dom. Rep. in the life of AlmaMia Cienfuegos
     - And why Jonquil and her sister reside across the street from 1,146 acres of NYC park

As a writer, I chose those settings because I did a lot of case management visits in the area after which I modeled Pre-Chaos, I grew up in wild woods just like the ones El Monte mimics, and I’m very familiar with Jonquil’s park. So… I know escape routes, where to hide if in need, and how the neighbors react to loud sex at different times of the day *grin*… Some writers might say that the internet (and a little travel) will answer all those questions, but I don’t know about that. I’ll use the case of Fifth Avenue as an example.

 A few months ago a writer friend asked me to read the first draft of a scene set in New York; Fifth Avenue, to be specific. I told her that I loved the action, the magic, and the burning emotions, but some of the things portrayed in the excerpt would bring someone who has actually been to Fifth Avenue right out of her story.

You see, there was mention of alleys and very loud violence taking place with no one noticing. My friend admitted that she had never visited New York, but for some reason Fifth Avenue came to mind when she started the draft. She went ahead and set the scene in a place she knew better after she edited her work.

Yesterday morning, another writer sent me two chapters set in—wanna guess?—yes, Fifth Avenue. I stopped halfway through the reading of a scene where a character gets raped in an alley (loudly, bloodily and for a very long time) a bit after 11:00 pm. I asked the writer if he had ever been to Fifth Avenue at night, and sent him this picture:  
He didn’t take it as well as my friend did. In retrospect, I should have probably said that Fifth Avenue is store front central, and that the closest thing to an alley he could find there is a delivery dock—which would usually be closed or occupied by workers. Could he make the scene work? Certainly, most of us remember the “Glasgow girl raped on public transit,” don’t we? In the writer’s case, all the readers need are a few lines keeping them from wondering how a person getting off work, or a wandering tourist, or an obsessed traffic cop… failed to hear a girl “screaming, at the top of her lungs, ‘Oh God help me, he’s raping me!’”

I’ll stop here. But not before saying that after the writer quit being mad at me, we found a very easy way to make the scene believable. Care to suggest how you would have fixed the scene, my Wicked Luvs? Also, if you are a writer, how do you choose your settings? If your art is visual (or more hands on) how do you select your mediums? 

17 comments:

  1. My limited writing has also been based in places I have been and know rather well.
    My assemblage art is based on watching my mother ...... make do. Making something from nothing empowers me.
    Oma Linda

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    1. I can always close my eyes and see the places you describe. I still have flashes of certain haunted house. Experience and a bit of imagination makes fiction very realistic ;-)

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  2. Either I make places up (easiest), or I stick to places I have seen myself. For All Souls' Children, I took a trip around town with a friend and a camera to find good impressions of all the places I had in mind for the story, so I could revisit while writing. And I handed it to friends who have spent more time here than I have to check for place errors. I really like reading about places and then going there, and it is always disappointing when I find that the author has wasted a good place.

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    1. Totally with you on the ease of making a place up. Or calling it "alternate this or that." This give you the room you need to have a street going through a housing area. Or creating that needed alley in Fifth Avenue.

      The Places you described in All Soul's Children are sooo freaking real. Just so you know, I made coffee ("the real deal") after reading the first few pages. I can't wait to read more about Helena ;-)

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    2. I'll send her your way once she has been translated. Glad you like her. ^^

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  3. *giggle* Well you already know my answer to this. But for the others reading, I am that first friend and my store was set in NY. I did change it to Lexington, KY. A city that I didn't grow up in, but have visited many times.

    It's hard not being a well traveled individual to place my characters anywhere else but BFE (Bum fuck Egypt, as my mother would say). I'm a country gal whose dreamed of the big city but in reality I wouldn't do well there.

    I don't want to write one type of character however. Not all of my creations can be a country gal. So I thought NY might be just the place. With 20+ reviews of that chapter, you're the only one who caught that problem Magaly. So I thank you. :)

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    1. There goes my source anonymity attempt lol I guess it's okay because it was you, and you are too cute. Anyhoo, I think the key to write about places we don't know well lies somewhere between imagination, Google Earth, and good friends around the world--just like Diandra said. And oh my goodness, reading, which we all do quite a bit.

      I've never been to the Discworld, but I've read so much Terry Pratchett that I could probably figure out you how to get from Granny Weatherwax's cottage to the smithy shop in Bad Ass without getting too lost. I might control the urge to making my character a live-there native, but I could get away with saying that s/he left the village when young...

      There is always a way, if there wasn't, then we wouldn't have Middle Earth, the Seven Kingdoms, Thundera, and the beat up NYC of I Am Legend.

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    2. lol Well I started to say in your email that you could name me in your post, but then thought well maybe you didn't want to. Anyway no I don't care about anonymity. I fully accept that I make mistakes and I learn as I go. That's the joy of writing. :)

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    3. Amén! Owning our faults and turning beneficial forces is a very witchy thing to do.

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    4. Funny how some males can't seem to do that! Tho, I've come across some females that have had that issue lately! lol

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    5. It can go both ways, if we let it...

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  4. I stick to places I live or regularly explore (like in Naanaa's story and Jaq's story), or I make the place up entirely ("the oracle" was like that, until I integrated it into Jaq's story). For me, it's easier to use a place I know than to make a place up, because all the environmental questions are already answered. :)

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    1. I tend to do both, depending on the stories. I like using real places for tales that take place in some years in the past (like AlmaMia Cienfuegos). But when it comes to Urban Fantasy (like Pre-Chaos) I like to mix things up. There is nothing cooler than to write a fictional forest in the middle of a real-life city ;-D

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  5. I tend to be part researcher and part world-builder. I like creating new worlds and figuring out how things will be working in the world, but I also love visiting places in Earth's past.

    One of the best places I've found for detailed descriptions of the great cities in their previous glories is RPG resource books. They do a lot of research into class structures, maps, descriptions of the neighbourhoods and boroughs, so they are well worth the price.

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    1. Well, I'll just go ahead and copy and paste my last reply lol Not really, but I'm right with you on the "part researcher and part world-builder" bit. AlmaMia, for instance is taking a lot of research. Most of places I've added to the stories exists. The same is half-true for my other stories. Some of the buildings I've visited, but I've taken them to different cities or just created an entire town--it's fun.

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  6. I usually pick a non named place or make up a place, but in all honesty they are pretty much taken from my home town and my own experiences. So the outdoor sex that my characters usually have .... yeah totally based on my experiences.

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    1. Well, gracias for that, now I'm thinking about you with a death mask!

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