1. Artemus19
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    Artemus19 Member

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    Cities: A Blank Canvas or Moving Picture?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Artemus19, Apr 7, 2015.

    Alright so here's my new dilemma. I've got three cities that exist in my novel; one is a trade hub surrounded by mountains and sided by a rather large ocean. It's part of the main island, with the center being a lustrous plain. The next is a science hub, a place for research and manufacturing everything amazing. It's relatively beautiful for an industrial city, and it hovers (yes, it is a sky city) in the midst of an almost perfectly round crater. The last is basically the Chicago of the three. It is just massive, and serves as a home for refugees and a ruthless militia. Now, on the contrary, I feel like I can bring these cities to life in my mind, but when I get to paper, the life-like animation they once held in thought is no devoid and no longer flows. I'd really love to see them blossom, since one of them is my Main Character's birthplace, which she has a strong love and sense of protection for.

    I wish to know: How does one go about creating a flowing city that is both jam packed with people, trading, working etc.. without being too plain? Sorry about the long post, this has been bothering me for quite some time.
     
  2. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Cultural artifacts go a long way toward creating the impression of a real culture. Have several characters use local colloquialisms and refer to local landmarks, local figures, local sports teams, etc. Have foreigners misunderstand the culture and either be corrected by locals or cause miscommunication, especially for comedic effect.
     
  3. Skaruts
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    Skaruts Member

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    I'm having sort of the same problem. My character arrived at a big city (cyberpunk influences) and a hooded man who knows her gave her gear, bit of money and a place to sleep a while. Now she woke up, the unknown hooded man is gone, and she's back on the streets heading towards a bar she was recommended to go to meet a person with connections.

    (I'm kinda thinking out loud, here)

    But she doesn't know the city. I figured this is a good way to expose it, as she, the still frightened character, looks around while walking towards her goal (which is quite far).

    I'm not sure how to do this, because nothing seems to come up. Still, @daemon, you seem to have given me an idea of what to do.

    Perhaps she overhears people talk in the crowded bohemian streets, as she passes them by, drunk people laughing by a bar, or junkies at a corner, beggars pleaing to her, police officers looking at her strangely, a pervert gawking at her, etc? Seems to make sense to me. I think I can bring in the overal ambience of the city that way.

    There's still one problem though. I think I can leave street names blank or have some far-fetched placeholders for now, but the architecture and the layout of the streets is still really blurry to me. I'd like to expose a little of it along with the rest, but I seem to get stuck with imagining the scenery...

    I usually worry with not being able to get into some of the finer details of the scenery too, but it occurred to me now that perhaps I should worry about them later. So maybe that's not a problem.
     
  4. Lance Schukies
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    Lance Schukies Active Member

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    every time they are out doors paint a picture, have your characters meet at landmarks, read or watch news about the city.
     
  5. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Be careful about getting TOO involved in this sort of world building. I mean, unless the architecture and the layout of the streets of each city is somehow important to the story you're telling, it seems like an unnecessary detail.

    There are writers who spend a lot of time building background that never gets included in the books, and if that's your method and you enjoy it, go for it. But it sounds like you're getting stuck on this, and I wonder whether it's sort of a sidetrack that isn't worth getting un-stuck?
     
  6. Skaruts
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    Skaruts Member

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    I'm mostly concerned about conveying the architectural style at a glance. Perhpas the most important description I need to give is that it's dirty and depressing. I think painting a picture, as Lance Schukies mentioned, is a good way to think about it. Putting it that way seems to have given me a more defined direction to take. I'm feeling like I can get somewhere with this now.

    I'm still struggling to come up with what the characters are saying that my character is overhearing, though...
     
  7. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    So she's on her own in a strange city and she's rubbernecking the scenery?

    No, she's feeling vulnerable. Everything that she hears, every laugh, every comment, is derogatory or threatening towards her. She's focussed on the people and how much of a threat she perceives they are.

    It's a dark and dangerous place, not somewhere with matchless architecture.
     
  8. Skaruts
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    Skaruts Member

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    Not quite. She noticing the surroudings. It's all new to her because she has no recollection of anything. Much as if she was born the day before, which is not true but in a way not far from the truth either. She was remade.

    She's frightened, but she's fought some enemies on her way to the city, and learned she could somehow fight, which was somewhat reassuring (sounds typical, I know). She's also armed with a knife and a pistol.

    The streets are in fact dark (figuratively - it's day time, late afternoon), but there's no sense of imediate danger. Police forces are also present and not too scarce in the immediate area.

    So yes, she is noticing everything. She's in no hurry, she has a goal, but she thinks it's just some place and some person who can help her get settled. There's no sense of urgency for now, she doesn't feel obliged to go there. So she's paying attention to her senses and even though she's still a bit frightened, she's enjoying observing this "new world", especially the people who are in fact a bit on the crazy side. She is being stalked, but she doesn't know it yet.

    I know this seems like a boring scene. :) Perhaps that's why I'm struggling. But the streets are supposed to be loud and busy, and stuff is supposed to be happening. I guess that's what I'm struggling with, after all...
     
  9. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    So she's effectively amnesiac?

    That's not a scary scenario at all!

    OK, she can fight, but if she's got any brain at all, she'll be aware that there's ALWAYS a faster gun somewhere.
     
  10. Skaruts
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    Skaruts Member

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    It wasn't suposed to be scary. And she's frightened more because everything is unknown and because she's on her own. She doesn't yet know what there is to fear. But she's not human and she doesn't know it either, and so shouldn't the reader at this point.

    But maybe you're right, maybe it should be scary. Maybe it should be night time, and maybe it should feel somewhat hostile...
     
  11. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I've been thinking of descriptions when I walk through my son's inner city neighborhood. I was there last weekend and noticed the smells changed about every half block: restaurant smells, someone smoking pot I think, diesel, the stale air near a garbage bin and so on.

    Go downtown if you can, walk around, make note of what you experience.
     

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