Here’s another testimonial to Marsha’s excellent advice about writing about houses and neighborhoods. Try it in the city, too.
By walking the streets I created an historical fiction novel involving a 13-year-old girl who lived in the 1920s.
Wait now. I didn’t really “walk the streets” (the way some might define that) and I wasn’t around in 1921. But I’d studied Raleigh, NC’s downtown area for years, wondering about the people who’d once lived and worked at the State Capitol, and well-known historic hotels situated on famous streets.
Then my muse made me “re-see” run-down buildings with broken boards and glass and even empty lots I’d overlooked before, and write about what they would have looked like and who would have been in them back in the day: dentist and law offices, beauty salons, shops with layers of painted over window signs, boarding houses tucked back in neat alleyways, movie theaters, drugstores with soda fountains, street vendors, ice cream parlors, a jook joint even, and other places beneath my radar.
Settings, sense of place, world-building and compelling characters arose from these environs. What will you re-see? Thanks, Marsha!
ELEANORA E. TATE is a children’s book author who has won numerous awards, including a CBC/NCSS Notable Children’s Trade Book in the field of social studies for Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.! and a Parent’s Choice Gold Seal Award for The Secret of Gumbo Grove.
Eleanora is retired from Hamline’s faculty.
Streetwalking–wish I'd thought to name the original post something like that. Glad to hear the exercise worked for you too, Eleanora.
Actually I've done this for many many years and with several of my books. Celeste's Harlem Renaissance (2007) was the last one I did it with.
I also walk in cemeteries, reading the epithats — but not using any names. That would be blasphamous. The Secret of Gumbo Grove (1987) was the book where I "cemeteried" the most. I slowed down on "cemetery-ing" after a woman told me she got chased by a plat-eyed ghost when passing a cemetery!