This is my first post from the Crowe's Nest, and let me just say, the view is stunning. Are those Juliette balconies?
I'm looking for some new digs, and I've been spending a lot of time ogling pictures of granite countertops, exposed duct work, and whirlpool baths. There's one place with interior Roman arches that overlooks Chicago's Victorian-era Rosehill cemetery ...
And another that's vintage industrial with a bedroom door that looks like it leads to a foundry.
For the record, I can't afford either.
But that's not the important part. The important part is that two very different people live (or will live) in these homes. And the pictures of those homes are on the internet, free for snoops like me to browse.
There is a sort of person who loves a vessel sink. I see a vessel sink and get itchy -- I imagine catching my wrist on its edge, knocking it over, and cracking the tile.
But maybe my character needs one. Maybe hers makes her feel like a medieval princess -- or a Gossip Girl. Maybe she breaks it and realizes the fragility of her parents' bourgeois pretensions ... or something.
I recently said to a friend that my issues with my novel in progress boiled down to, "Why this thing? Why this girl?"
I forgot about, "Why this place?"
When I shared a synopsis of that novel with my Vermont College roomie Jessica Leader, author of Nice and Mean, she mentioned that much of the story felt floaty, like it might have been set anywhere.
My setting needed specificity, a cemetery or a foundry, a balcony or a vessel sink ...
I was reminded of an exercise from a screenwriting class. We each wrote down an interesting location, put them all in a hat, and then drew one at random. Then we had to write (or rewrite) a scene set there.
Soon our characters were touching things, moving through space, and *gasp* having symbolically charged relationships to their environments.
This weekend, I started Nova Ren Suma's Imaginary Girls, which opens on a mythically-charged reservoir. After only one gorgeous chapter, it's clear that the story could happen nowhere else.
I think of one of my (and Jess Leader's) favorites, Edward Bloor's Tangerine, which would be nothing without its Florida of sinkholes, muck fires, a hyperreal gated community, and endangered tangerine groves.
Just yesterday on Fresh Air, Aaron Sorkin discussed The West Wing's "walk and talk" scenes, which originated from his director's desire to add visual interest to the show.
Novels need visual interest too. It's too easy to get hung up with talking heads and interior monologues.
I give you permission to "waste time" on Flickr, on any of the image resources listed on OneHistory.org, in real estate . . . or on a local blog, like this one: Naaman Fletcher's What's Left of Birmingham.
His photo of an abandoned pool in Irondale, Alabama, reminds me of a site-specific scene from the novel I recently sold ... a scene set at an abandoned pool ... in Irondale, Alabama. What?
The internet is magic.
Or try setting your scene in one of these places, and see what happens:
A children's museum
An amusement park
A foreclosed office building
The bedroom of that one kid you knew in high school
A thrift store
Your mom's house
Better yet, suggest a setting in the comments -- leave a challenge for someone else!