Writing and Architecture

Many years ago, when I began to write screenplays, I realized how precious little I knew about how the world works. I was reading the noir novels Raymond Chandler at that time. Chandler was a master at dressing his stories with what I judge to be the right amount of descriptive detail. He had the English taste for verbal economy. But he added to that a physicality he learned from his experience as a man of the world.

I had travelled some in my young life, lived in New York and California. But I hadn’t actually done much.  Most especially, I hadn’t built anything, and felt I needed to in order to write with authority.

My wife and I set our sites on building our own house, and in 1982 built a house in the hills of Vermont eleven miles northwest of Burlington. It was a simple house but a significant accomplish for the two of us. Since then, we’ve lived in two other houses, one in Ann Arbor and our current house in Seattle.  We made major improvements to both which we are quite proud of. The work isn’t master-level. But, with my naive optimism and her sense of designed, the work turned out well and added to the quality of our lives.

These experiences have helped me consider the world I place my characters in. I do not consider myself a great writer by any means, but I do write with enjoyment and consideration for the physical world of my stories.  In this effort, I’m trying to bring architectural elements into these tales from my travels as well as the various books and sites I study as part of the writing process.

The picture above is from a grand article about the remodel of Lakeview Airport in New Orleans.


Build your own city like CitiesXL

A few years ago I received an Advanced Certificate for Literary Fiction from the University of Washington. It was a very good program that helped me make the change from writing screenplays to fiction. We wrote a number of short pieces for the class and worked on our own larger works. For me, that was what I then called Erin Isabelle and the Wicked Uncle.

I set it originally in New York City. I struggled with the implementation of that idea considerably. I had gone to college near the city, but didn’t actually live there. Years later NY seemed a bit alien. When we read part of my piece in class, my struggle became obvious.  Everyone had suggestions about the geography of the city. “Central Park is not like that” and “You forgot about Lexington” were some of the comments. That was all fine, but frankly none of it mattered to me. The concern for accuracy took me out of the story, as the inevitable errors would do to the readers as well.

My professor threw her head back and laughed. “Make up your own city. It will be more exciting, and you will own everything in it.”

This turned out to be a great idea.  Not only could I create the city as it was in the story, but the history and character of it as well. I was able to make the city I wanted to live in – not as a known landscape, but a place where people make different decisions. Kudos to Woody Allen and others for showing NYC as it is, but I’m glad I’ve created my own world for my own series.

Certainly players of SimCity, CitiesXL and OpenCity are familiar with these pleasures.