Dropping in on Another World by Maria Hudgins
Taking in the skyline of Vienna from the top of my hotel, I was surprised to spot the Prater Wheel in the distance. Still the world’s largest Ferris wheel, it stood, not in the middle of the city, but way over in the north on the bank of the Danube River. Why had I expected it to be downtown? Simple. My concept of the city, the wheel, and even the entrance to the sewers had been formed and cemented by The Third Man, starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton, the screenplay written by Graham Greene. In the story, it seemed like the amusement park and Ferris wheel were in the heart of the war-torn city.
Our minds are filled with images of things we have seen—or think we have seen. Have I seen the Alamo, or do I just think I’ve seen it? I may have only read about it in a book, but part of who we are is what we’ve read. Do you have a mental picture of Istanbul? Of Paris? Of Japan? Have you been there, or have you just read about it? Part of the joy and challenge of writing a story is creating a world to put it in, and different authors create different worlds in the same geographic place. Inspector Morse’s Oxford is very different from Dorothy L Sayers’s.
Picture Los Angeles as described by Walter Mosely in Little Scarlet:
“The morning air still smelled of smoke. Wood ash mainly but there was also the acrid stench of burnt plastic and paint. And even though I knew it couldn’t be true, I thought I caught a whiff of putrid flesh from under the rubble across the street.”
Or Michael Connelly’s Los Angeles in The Gods of Guilt:
“He got in the front and I jumped in the back. After a quick stop at the sandwich shop on Alameda I had Earl point the car west. The next stop was a place called Menorah Manor, near Park La Brea in the Fairfax District.”
We all think we know what a little English village is like, but is that because it really is or because of what Agatha Christie told us? In the Murder of Roger Ackroyd, she says:
“Our village, King’s Abbot, is, I imagine, very much like any other village. Our big town is Cranchester, nine miles away. We have a large railway station, a small post office, and two rival ‘General Stores.’ Able-bodied men are apt to leave the place early in life, but we are rich in unmarried ladies and retired military officers. Our hobbies and recreations can be summed up in the one word, ‘gossip.'”
When creating a world with your words, remember, this is not a travelogue. Less is more. The story is the thing. Click To Tweet
I’ve driven through little villages in the English Cotswolds, and I can tell you this is pretty accurate, except for the retired military officers. When creating a world with your words, remember, this is not a travelogue. Less is more. The story is the thing. You can wax poetic for pages about weather in Sweden, or, like Stieg Larssen in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you can say, “He considered walking, but it was a blustery December day, and he was already cold. “
That’s it. You get the idea.
Maria Hudgins is the author of the Dotsy Lamb Travel Mysteries, the Lacy Glass Archaeology Mysteries, and a number of short stories. She has visited Italy, Switzerland, England, Scotland, Egypt, Turkey, and the Greek Islands, and used these locales in her stories. She still has the notebooks she kept in each of these places.