Walking Inside Your Story

One of the mental problems I’ve been working on this week is what would a stairwell look like if it was flipped upside-down and would you still be able to use it to get between floors. The answer of course varies a bit by design but generally it should work for narrative purposes, though there are some obvious difficulties.

Earlier, in Chapter Two of The Sky Below I had to think about what it would be like to walk through a ceiling with tiles. In my office there’s a decent four or five feet above what I consider the ceiling, and if the room were flipped I’d be running into a lot of the frame or crawling below it.

Several scenes in Surreality take place in real life locations. Part of figuring out how to write the scene involved walking through those spaces, examining viewing angles, timing runs, that sort of thing. While a lot of the spaces in our stories are places we invent wholesale, it can be a refreshing exercise to write something with real world restrictions.

The benefit is that you can actually do some of the things your character will be doing. If several officers are tasked with staging at different levels in a large open area, you can get a sense of what they can see, what objects are in their way, and how quickly they can respond to threats. You can see opportunities for cover, and possible escape routes for your perpetrator. And if you do it right, people who read your work and know the real place will feel like they are really there.

With my upside-down earth a lot of this is visualization, but it starts from the same real world place. Some of the locations in my story I’ve been able to get interior layouts and have actually flipped them to get a sense of how surfaces change. I’d love to make a field trip to Cleveland at some point, but fortunately there are some well documented pictures from a variety of blogs that have been very helpful.

Research can help to inspire new ideas and creative energy that might have been spent creating complex layouts can now be spent on creative solutions to the problems posed by a well-known location. You might occasionally get a few weird looks, and you might not be able to get everywhere you’d like to go, but anything that can add to realism can only benefit story. Specific details drive the readers ability to visualize where they are and what is happening.

Of course if I was really good I would just stand on my head and write. Only trouble is I’d have to convince everyone else to stand on their head as well.


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