Location, Location

I wrote a new short story. It is available on wattpad only and was specially commissioned by USA Network as part of their campaign to launch a new TV show called DIG. I was pretty excited when I was asked to do this as USA Network produce some of my all-time favourite TV shows such as Heroes, Homeland and Suits. The show is an international mystery and inspired by this a new character sprung up in my mind named Elisa Hartwood – a 16 year old super geek who studies at Cambridge, a gifted puzzle solver, who is called upon to help solve some of the most high profile, hush-hush cases. You can read the story here.

Poisoned LordThe location needed to be international. Usually when I think international I think New York because for me there is hardly any better location for any story than New York – I just kind of think that. It’s probably energy, the variety, the scale of it all. This time however I wanted somewhere different and so my mind turned to Venice which is a place I lived during the spring of 2000 – fifteen years ago back when I was a little 19 year old duckling! You can see me in some of the film camera photos I took back then!

Locations bring along their own connotations and stories and backdrops and in this case Venice was perfect with its aura of decrepit luxury, watery glamor and European opulence. There’s a potential for darkness there which was just right. The story is an aristocratic murder mystery so if I had decided to set it in Melbourne Australia for instance the whole thing would have turned out completely different. Saying that I think a compelling skill of good writing is when a unique take is crafted of a familiar place. For instance the dank, drug-addled Edinburgh you find in the work of Irvine Welsh (e.g. Trainspotting) is very different to the brooding and mysterious Edinburgh you find in Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series.

It is that unique viewpoint that a particular writer captures that makes setting exciting. If it is an imagined setting the details, the viewpoint remain just as important if not even more so as the writer builds it all up. Saying that I’m not a fan of massive long descriptions of setting just for the sake of getting it across because it can be actionless and boring but a few details here and there and linking the surroundings to the characters thoughts, emotions or actions seems to work wonders. In this way locations become characters themselves – think of Hogwarts or Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory or the futuristic Chicago of Divergent.

I recently watched a lecture by the great screenwriter Richard Curtis who wrote Love Actually, Notting Hill and many others. There’s a bit where he tells us that his first proper screenplay was essentially a disaster and part of the reason it was so is because he set the film in the US and he simply wasn’t that familiar with the various cultural customs and ways of life of where he was writing about. This also rings true. It also counts if a writer creates a new world because all these things have to be taken into account in order to generate the sense of authenticity and ease. Placing the story (which is the most important bit) in a place where the writer is completely comfortable then allows the flourishes and humor and interplays to come out. Richard then went on to write a script in a place he knew well – London – and out popped Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Gosh I’ve gone on a bit here but I hope this is something useful about locations in fiction!

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