Broadway Lights and Yellow Cars
I rarely write fiction these days, but when I do, I generally set these pieces in places that I have experienced in one way or another. This helps me to vividly imagine the scenery around the characters, and to write from a place of love.
In my final year of university, I was challenged with writing 3000 words of fiction for an assignment. Though I had many ideas, I struggled to bring anything of substance into fruition, primarily because I couldn't work out where to set it (having already written many pieces set here in the UK). However, with a little encouragement, I began to research different settings and settled on writing a piece based in New York. After all, there would be plenty of stories to tell in a city so vast.
Before writing about New York, I couldn't really understand the hype of the city. Besides the pull of the broadway lights and cliche yellow cars, I genuinely couldn't appreciate why people felt drawn to a place that appeared to operate at its maximum all of the time. Don't get me wrong, the classic romantic comedies had me falling in love with the idea of New York City from a young age. From 'P.S I Love You' and '27 Dresses' to 'Begin Again' and 'New Year's Eve', you'd think that these epic stories of love would have a storyteller like myself keen to see, at least, what New York was all about. However, it wasn't until I began writing about New York, that I began to find subtle ways of falling in love with its heart for the first time.
Though I found myself knee-deep in stories that I wanted to tell, I was worried that my inexperience of New York, and reservations about it, would shine through in my fictional piece. From reading existing fiction, it appeared that New York was either romanticised or despised, and I tended to favour the former. I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to convey a love for the city without truly knowing it.
As a result of this, I took my time to research patches of New York City in detail, even going as far as to contact someone who works in Central Park to establish the atmosphere, some of its quirks, and even the different types of plants. This might sound a little excessive for a university assignment, but I was adamant that 'knowing' New York would enhance the reader's experience of my characters. I took virtual tours, read as much as I could in the limited time, and spent hours on google maps working out how to navigate the city. I'm not certain that I got it right all the time, but I was much closer to experiencing New York than I'd ever been before.
I found that the more I researched, the more my character's individual stories came to life. For example, I had never considered some of the challenges of New York for those with disabilities and this became a narrative that I wanted to explore. The way that a character experiences life and an environment can invite the reader into a closer relationship with that character, most likely because they understand them more. This is important to me in my writing as empathy proves itself to be a theme that is found in my writing time and time again. As I felt more empathy for my characters, the reader, in turn, could too.
Researching has brought many of my pieces to life in ways I hadn't always predicted that it would, but it has also enabled me to visualise travel experiences that I never thought I would want to embark on. Research and experiencing the world makes a significant difference to my writing (and to my life it would seem)! Taking a city break to New York is now a post-pandemic goal of mine, all because I wrote about it and fell in love with it! It is like writing about somewhere I was uncertain of has opened the door for me much wider than it had been before.