A Place for Everything (and everything in its place)

In this final week before I embark on a new novel, I’m working to lay out a trajectory—get a sense of where I’m going and how I’m going to get there. Problem is, in ways, I don’t have much.

This project is different from others in that it’s grounded in place. Setting has never been a strength of mine, although I can’t claim I’ve given it due attention. Typically my settings amount to “nondescript city,” and outside passing references (to the weather, or traffic patterns at rush hour, or the bar where all the underage kids go to drink) it doesn’t come up. This, though … this is (literally) another story.

Several months ago, I read China Miéville’s The City & The City. We follow Inspector Tyador Borlú, a resident of the fictional European city of Besźel, which is mixed in with the city of Ul Qoma. Both occupy the same geographic space, more or less, with areas that are wholly one or the other and areas that are “crosshatched” blends of both, but they are politically separate, complete with a sort of border security and a customs office one must pass through to legally cross into the other city. Without this setting, the story (a murdered girl found dumped in a lot) becomes generic; with it, the story is deepened and complicated. Enriched. The City & The City could not take place in Anytown, Midwestlandia, or be transplanted to London; its development is predicated upon the complexities of Besźel and Ul Qoma, to the point where the cities become more than a simple backdrop.

So what of my upcoming project? Without going into details—something I don’t like to do before getting a first draft down—I can say that the story, like The City & The City, relies on location in an active sense. At least, it will, once I come up with it.

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