Kolkata to Paris on Paper Planes: Stories About Place

Let’s talk stories about place. Place can be home, neighborhood, town. It can be your geographical region, also your workplace, or your kid’s school, or the popular circus or theatre. I love the idea of making the chosen ‘place’ a character, giving it space to breathe, letting it reflect the dominant emotion in your story.

Leaving the rest of the examples of ‘place’ for another blogpost, let us take a ticket to a dot on the map today, somewhere you love to visit, a city you’d like to take the reader along! Stories take us to destinations, take us to real wanderings, on backpacking trails, up the mountains and down the gorges — they are a favorite category for readers, at homes and in libraries, especially in unprecedented locked-up times like these.

From a writer’s perspective, it’s incredible when the reader may feel like having visited the place already, though they haven’t, or at least, they want to visit it because they fell in love with the place because of the writing! For me, James Joyce did that for me. I think I wouldn’t be lost if I were in Dublin! Of course, its harder to place the romance of a city inside a flash the same way it could be done with a short-story. Yet, flash pieces set in distinctive locations carry a special charm. For inspiration, I recommend the wonderful “A Roman Road” by Adam McOmber in Atticus Review (plumed gardens full of olive trees, a villa strung with burning lamps. They remember halls of fine marble, the lips of pale young men), plus Sherri Turner’s “Then It Was Autumn Again” in Reflex Fiction that attempts to literally ‘catch’ the vibe of Paris, and Shome Dasgupta’s “A Kolkata Dream” (New World Writing) which does it for Kolkata (Consider the River Ganges, its glittered dhotis and saris floating with stray wooden boats, a hole here a hole there—a rickshaw in the distance, in search of vanilla ice cream).

Now, if you do decide to take your characters to a special place, a city you are partial to, you need some extra homework. As a writer (not necessarily a travel writer), maybe you take notes/keep journals on your travels. Sure you take photographs (too many to count!) and videos (as many as possible!). Why not use them? If travelling is more than a passion, and you come back and pour over new travelogues to decide on the next of your travels, taking your travels to readers is easy. If you are like me, you make sketches, ascribe imaginary backstories to exhibits or paintings you saw at the gallery, talk to locals to learn of places off the grid — you do all these and more. Isn’t it enchanting to discover a known place anew, and tell readers about it through your next work?

Here’s how you can make ‘places’ come alive, make them a bed of magnolia on which to spread your story!

>Pay attention to detail. Trust your senses. Remain sincere to the place as it offers itself, without either glossing over or peeling layers off it.

>Remember you are an outsider, not a dweller. Make use of your fresh pair of eyes to look at things around, like an inquisitive child.

>Go easy on the info. Better still, edit out any particulars needless to the narrative. You are not writing a travelogue.

>Do use easily identifiable monuments/streets/bazars/castles, but ignore the clichés.

>Choose one location that strikes you most to set your story in. Using all the places of interest in a city may be too much distraction. Consider the mood, theme and subject of your particular WIP in selecting it, but don’t overstress it.

>Say something interesting about it, an observation or detail that’s really your own.

>If it’s historical fiction, perhaps some facts relating to the place might be of interest. Otherwise, skip historical details entirely.

>Finally, invoke the feeling/emotion you are interested in. It’s important to find the right vibe of the city/place to capture it correctly.

I hope you write about place, take the reader on a journey, mesmerize them as they wander in the destination of your choice.

In my next blog, we will take a look at places closer home, workplaces, salons, libraries, schools, parks included.

Thanks for taking the time to read my wee piece! To travels and stories …

%d bloggers like this: