I live in a noisy busy area not far from Manhattan. I have the MTA trains running behind our house to and from the city. Literally.
Yet, for some unknown reason, I write better and more often in the midst of this chaos, than I do in the peaceful quiet of the mountains, where I often go in the warmer weather.
There is a certain lively 'energy' that all busy areas seem to possess, especially that of a big city. New York City is often coined, the city that never sleeps. And if you've ever spent a night in a hotel in Manhattan, you'll know why. It made our passing trains seem peaceful. There was never a moment of non-activity. Garbage trucks unloading trash cans, beeping horns, a steady hustle and bustle, no matter the hour.
While this might make for insanity to some folks used to a more quiet environment, for others, it provides a stimulating creativity. In fact, I'd suspect that most New Yorkers, for example, don't even 'hear' the noise. They are part of that energy that propels the city. It runs through and with them.
Insofar as writing is concerned, we can grasp a bit of this energy for our city scenes - get the 'feel' of it and bring it to life in our story.
Of course, the holiday season is the time when such cities seem to take on a magical aura. Lights twinkle throughout the streets, Department store windows are decorated and spark to life with animated puppets and glitzy mannequins. Santa Claus in on nearly every street corner ringing his bell. Churches chime Christmas carols, while holiday tunes ring out from various shops that people are running in and out of with wrapped packages.
Whether you are writing about the past or present, most cities have been carrying out these holiday activities for over a century or more.
A touch of snow always makes things all the more magical, as snowflakes swirl around street lamps, and colored lights peep through new snow, muted yet soft and inviting on a Christmas tree in the midst of a bustling city.
The streets take on a subtle quietness - like the difference between walking on a carpet compared to walking on a hardwood floor.
And it's a wonderful feeling! (Store that for a city winter scene!)
And let us not forget the scent of the pretzel man on many a corner selling warm doughy pretzels and even hot chestnuts to bundled up customers waiting in line, shifting in place to keep the cold at bay. Pretzels and chestnuts have been sold from way back-in-the-day, except now vendors have carts.
Had I not included any photos, could you still picture it? These are my memories of Christmas in the city that I've just attempted to convey to you. The photos are included to let you 'see' what I saw. BUT you should be able to envision these things just by my words. Ah! Now that is the wondrous craft of writing!
While Christmas is an ideal time to grasp the 'feel' of the city at its best (note how many Christmas movies that take place in New York City,) there are other times that can transfer their imprint on our minds to paper quite well. Like a rainy day in the city...many a painting has been done to portray such days.
There's something 'cozy' about a rainy day (or night) in a bustling city.
And there's the new life of springtime too. When people come out to the parks in their cities. In New York, it's Central Park, as the budding Cherry blossoms emerge in full splendor. And sidewalks are colorful with new tulips.
And not to forget summer, when everyone flocks to outdoor cafes, steps of large buildings, and the small parks on benches or at tables to gather and eat lunch.
It seems that people who live in quiet serene areas, nowhere near a big city, tend to enjoy reading about city living, and vice versa. I often hear the teens of country living parents say that they can't wait to move to the city. And I hear city folks say that they wish they could have a nice quiet place in the country to 'get away from it all.'
So, we never know who will want to get lost in the environment we create in our writing. Therefore, it's a good idea to write it from the positive perspective we have gained from our city and country visits and/or living. Both have their own special draw.
But in this post, since we are focusing on a city environment, I urge us all to find those subtle poignant moments that are numerous in nearly every city setting.
I like to hone in on what might otherwise pass the ordinary eye in all the busyness of a city setting.
We can find every emotion on city streets. And that makes for a wonderful treasure chest to go to for your characters as they evolve in your story's city setting.
See what emotions and types of moments you can find the next time you venture to the city. And if you live in one, look at it with new eyes.