On the City as Setting

So setting . . . the novel in progress is set in the city. To be exact, it is set in Manhattan, a hundred years in the future. (I am ignoring the outer boroughs.)

Before, when I first started the novel in progress, I wasn’t certain exactly which city I would set it in or if I would make up my own city or what. I figured I could come back and add details to make the setting important later on. All I knew, all I really made clear, is that it took place in a large city.

Now I know exactly where it takes place. Thing is, setting should be its own character. It should be crucial to the story – it is! I have made it is so it could not take place anywhere else, but that is largely because I used the 100 years between now and the story’s time, to make a few changes in the city itself, changes that other cities don’t have, but that I need. Really, I could have taken any city and made those changes and it would have everything I need.

So I wondering what the real flavor of the city is. Does it even matter? My imagined version of the city isn’t quite the same as the real city and it’s not really like the Hollywood version, either. I am not sure what separates this city from any other city. It has subways, true, but other cities have those, too (if not nearly to the same degree!). It’s a financial center (in my version, this is why his family lives here), but a few other cities are also financial centers. There is Broadway (but this doesn’t impinge on my character especially). I don’t think he really goes in for plays or art or history or anything like that.  It has skyscrapers, but I have to figure every city worthy of being called a city has skyscrapers. Historically, it is famous for crime and I figure I can use that. Might not be easy, as I grew up in a decade where the city is mostly safe. (But I can always imagine it, eh?)

So what else? What is unique to this city? I am not sure. If I had only three words to sum up the city, I don’t know what words I would use.


2 thoughts on “On the City as Setting

  1. Do you NEED it to be New York, or any specific city? I find
    it can work perfectly not to name the city a story takes place in.
    I am doing the very thing for a novel I am currently working on and
    it gives me the leeway I need. Otherwise I’d be afraid a reader
    more familiar with the city I picked might go “I’ve been on that
    street corner and that sign is NOT green!” I remember a Q&A
    with Cory Doctorow where an audience member tried to argue with him
    about the slang he let his characters use in a story based in San
    Francisco. Readers can be fickle like that. Also, you allow readers
    to put the name of their city into the blank you leave. I can see
    how you might need to be specific, though.

    1. I am not sure I do need it to be NYC. It is very like the city, I know that much, so even if I don’t name it, it will resemble the city in a lot of ways.

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