Where are we now? Writing and setting

As I mentioned last year, when I started rewriting Let No Man Put Asunder I switched the opening chapter from a small college town to Blue Ivy (I suspect the name will change), an industrial, working-class city in 1976 with a few excellent colleges. The opening scenes around Rolly’s, a grimy diner, were vivid enough I decided to keep Paul and Mandy in town, rather than plunging them into the interdimensional adventures of the previous version.

Trouble is, now I have to come up with more settings that keep me, and hopefully readers, interested. Instead of abandoned cities or sinister towers, I need Blue Ivy settings that look just as cool, and provide somewhere interesting for the action scenes. Up until this month, I’ve been falling down on the job. The settings either felt unreal or generic, like the big, long-established church for one fight scene. Aside from Mandy’s house, the first time since Rolly’s that I said “yes!” was when they stayed at the Mercury Motel.

In the 20th century tradition of quirky roadside lodging (like the windmill image above, courtesy of the Library of Congress), the Mercury remodeled itself in 1961 to take advantage of interest in the Mercury space missions. Space-capsule salt and pepper shakers, cool space and rocket-related decor, all of which has stayed in place as the space program faded away. It’s no longer trendy but it’s colorful enough to attract drivers going by. But between that and Chapter Three it felt like the environment was dull.

My first step was to get a clearer idea of Blue Ivy. I didn’t want it to be the kind of small town where everyone knows everyone. I eventually settled on Pittsburgh as a model, but only a loose one: keeping the town fictional means I don’t have to be accurate about real-world details. Looking at photos of Pittsburgh in the 1970s gives me visuals, like the bridge Paul and Mandy drive over in one chapter(As TYG and I stayed in Pittsburgh for a Mensa event some years back, my photos might be useful too, even though they’re not period).

Even if I didn’t (yet) use specific photos like this one below of the Union Trust Building —— they’ve prompted my mind to start thinking of other locations. Rather than the big old church, it’s now a small church in a working-class neighborhood; when Paul and Mandy run they hop a chain link fence into a warehouse parking lot, then sneak under the nearest road via a drainage culvert. That’s much more what I’m shooting for.

Another drawback to keeping things on Earth was that inevitably the cops got involved. As I mentioned last month, that led to too many sit-and-discuss scenes and a loss of tension. In the course of changing the setting around I’ve also isolated my protagonists so they have little choice but to run. I can always bring the cops back in if Paul and Mandy need help later.

#SFWApro. Pittsburgh images from Only in Your State, all rights to images remain with current holders.

1 Comment

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One response to “Where are we now? Writing and setting

  1. Pingback: Week in review: No need to cry “Mayday!” | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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