Finding Your Way in the Dark

ready for my birthday party--many moons ago
ready for my birthday party--many moons ago

He took my hand when the lights went out. My traveling companion and I had just decided to leave the disco and go back to our hotel to a room we’d been sharing with three others, but those three others had gone home. We wanted to stay at The Black Sea for one more day. A village on The Black Sea is difficult to leave no matter who you’re with.

The lights went out everywhere. We couldn’t see the ground. We couldn’t see each other. We could hear the screams and clattering glasses from the disco and few blocks away we could hear the sea. The cracked, pocked pavement tripped us both, and as we were drunk, we laughed because we were lost. Without light, we lost all sense of direction.

As always, of course, my traveling took the lead. “I think the center of town is this way,” he said. The thing about this village on The Black Sea is that there are cliffs. The sea sounded so close to me, but alcohol had scattered my sense of distance. I kept running into him, and he put his arm around my waist to keep me steady. Only in this country by The Black Sea have I experienced such darkness.

We thought we’d gone the wrong direction when the village lights came back. We were standing under a street light and the suddenness of the light made us both jump. We were a block from our hotel and from our room we’d been sharing with others but would now have to ourselves.

I knew then that my traveling companion would barely speak to me once we got on the train the next day, but this village on The Black Sea was my favorite place in the world and I lied to myself–that I could make it his favorite place too.

Where is your favorite novel set? How much does setting influence your writing or your selection in what to read? Do you want another Paris novel or perhaps some L.A. noir?

My stories are set in specific places but I have a terrible time figuring out how or where to describe those places. My descriptions often cut into action and seemed forced–obligatory description goes here now! But leave it out and readers say they had no sense of where they were. And then the setting has a particular mood to convey, where it is light and where it is dark…

How difficult is setting for you?

6 thoughts on “Finding Your Way in the Dark

  1. My favorite settings are the shadow places.

    I still have in my mind to write a novel set in the lost corners of New York City, city of alleyways and subway tunnels and blacktop roofs and abandoned buildings. I love the beauty that you can find sprouting its way up through the cracks in the cement.

    Usually a movie or novel set in NYC is one of glitter and glam and money and skyscrapers, but that is just the skin of the city, all SATC and shallow. The rest of the heartbeat is what happens inside. That’s the story I want to write.

    I may have to sit on this setting for a few more years, and let it simmer. The stories I’ve tried to write don’t come through. They peter out, missing some vital element. I might have figured out what needs to be done, the characters and story that inhabit that novel setting, but I’m still working on my science fiction novels, so I have to let the NYC story cook a little longer.

  2. LOVE that NYC story idea, Rowena. (The city can be scary after dark — and it’s probably a good thing I never had to experience a blackout there like the one Marta describes here. But out of that shallow skin is also when it feels most exciting/inviting to me.) Don’t let it cook too long — I bet I’m not the only one who’d be taken with it!

    I used to think I didn’t pay much attention to writing about setting — or didn’t do a very good job of it. Then I blogged about it a couple of times, with excerpts from some of my stuff, and in the process discovered that I apparently paid a lot more attention to it than I thought I did. (Still working on the “good job” bit, though. :))

    Haven’t seen the movie, and HATED the way the book ended, but The Ruins had a great setting — one of those classic horror-genre “Aaiieee — the place is ALIVE!” things.

    Another very cool fictional place was the world of Duncton Wood, by William Horwood: the underground world of a society of moles.

  3. rowena, I agree with JES–don’t let your stories cook too long back there, they might boil away.

    JES, I love Watership Down, and so this Duncton Wood might do well too. Reading about it reminded my of The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers–very odd and very cool and very underground and shadowy.

    Think I’m going to skip the horror though. Just saying.

  4. Rowena – JES and M are right – don’t sit too long. I’m another person lined up and wanting to read….I still live in NYC and you made it feel familiar and wildly distant to me at the same time… love it…want to read it!!

    M – I think I hear an feel my characters and while I know where they are I, too, sometimes have a hard time making the setting work. I love the Narnia Chronicles for the way setting works there….but it’s something I personally need to work with. I can see it but I don’t always paint the best picture for the reader….I guess it just takes work….you do a nice job of setting the scene here…I was with you in the dark!

    Missed you and all our blogging friends and glad to be back..will be aroun much more often now

  5. Glad you’re back Natasha. I love Narnia too.

    Squirrel, I’ve read few novels set in those places, but I’ll read a novel set anywhere. A good story is a good story. Well, I have a weakness for settings that don’t exist.

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