Wednesday, August 19, 2015

WEP August Challenge: Spectacular Settings

Here's my entry in the August 2015 WEP Flash Fiction Challenge.  It's all about Spectacular Settings!

For the first part of this challenge, I'd like to share an excerpt from Neil Gaiman's novel Neverwhere.

"It was a city in which the very old and the awkwardly new jostled each other, not uncomfortably, but without respect; a city of shops and offices and restaurants and homes, of parks and churches, of ignored monuments and remarkably unpalatial palaces; a city of hundreds of districts with strange names-Crouch End, Chalk Farm, Earl's Court, Marble Arch-and oddly distinct identities; a noisy, dirty, cheerful, troubled city, which fed on tourists, needed them as it despised them, in which the average speed of transportation through the city had not increased in three hundred years, following five hundred years of fitful road-widening and unskillful compromises between the needs of traffic, whether horse-drawn, or, more recently, motorized, and the needs of pedestrians; a city inhabited by and teeming with people of every color and manner and kind."

I love this use of setting because it sets the tone for the whole novel.  Neverwhere is a story of finding the strange and fantastical hidden in plain sight.  London Below is a wonderful and dangerous place that most people never see, but there are entrances everywhere.  The juxtaposition of old and new as outlined in the excerpt gives the impression of a city that's been layered over time, and highlighting that nature makes the idea of something as bizarre as London Below remaining hidden that much more plausible.

Now on to part two!  This comes from my WIP, which is currently untitled but is the follow-up to my novella A Silent Soliloquy.

*     *     *

The sky is black.  The moon and stars have been obliterated by cloud cover.  I pull the dark trench coat tight around me to combat the bone-chilling breeze.  This coat used to be as black as the night sky, I suspect, but old age and use has turned it an unappealing brownish hue.  The large cloth that I’ve wrapped around my head to hide my hair is royal purple, and I’ve made sure that it doesn’t cover my ears so I can hear anything that might be happening around me.  Fortunately, the city is largely silent as I make my way down the street, keeping my eyes peeled for the potholes that might trip me up.
There are still some signs of human activity, of course.  There’s a partial cigarette on the ground by a trash bin, the cherry still glowing softly.  The sound of a metal door sliding shut in the distance lifts the silence briefly before it comes crashing down around me once more.  Curfew just ended a few minutes ago, allowing the early shifters to go about their work routine, but most of the world is still asleep.
My shoulders remain hunched as I kick aside a couple of food wrappers.  A red neon sign advertising discount pharmaceuticals illuminates the end of one street, so I get a glimpse of a human figure curled against the wall.  It’s wrapped in a filthy pink blanket.  Whoever it is has clearly been here for some time, but I’m not surprised the curfew violation went unnoticed.  Enforcement officials have more important places to protect.
As the long minutes pass, which are filled with the sight of tiny square homes standing entirely too close together, a faint pink glow grows on the horizon.  The cloud cover is beginning to lift enough that I can make out the top of the sun as it peeks over the edge of the world.  I’m just coming to the Ryan Street Bridge.  There’s a bit more traffic now, of both the foot and motor vehicle variety, so I keep my eyes aimed downward as I walk.  Near the start of the bridge, I casually begin to shrug out of the trench coat.  The shedding reveals the wide-collared cerulean sweater that was somewhat fashionable a couple years ago and generic black slacks.  It’s still quite cold, but the sweater is heavy enough that hardly anyone would think anything of my appearance.  I let the coat drop so that it comes to rest on the grassy slope that leads to the water.  Lots of homeless people take shelter beneath this part of the bridge, and it’ll be claimed before long.
The dull roar of the river passing beneath my feet draws my attention as I cross.  The hypnotic quality of the sound keeps my thoughts grounded, as does the steady whir of passing cars.  The less I think, the better.
Soon I’ve left the bridge behind me.  A group of people dressed in jumpsuits stand in front of a convenience store sipping coffee and talking.  A happy laugh escapes one of them, while the guy next to him looks mildly annoyed.
About fifteen minutes later the local elementary school comes into view.  I hold my shoulders straight and my head high.  The surveillance cameras are more numerous in this area, but I happen to be casually looking in the opposite direction at a passing car, or an advertisement board, or a rock garden each time I pass one.  A stand of trees near a side entrance to the school gives me just enough shelter.  I pull the purple garment from my head and flip it, revealing the dark blue floral print on the other side.  When I step onto the sidewalk once more, I’m wearing it as a shawl.  My hair is pinned up in a French twist.  I could pass for any teacher or business woman now.
The sun is well above the horizon when I pass a bistro.  I remember it from a mission that happened early on in my life, and I shudder slightly.  I suppress my visceral reaction as I pass a group of men and women in fancy business suits walking out with breakfast croissants and baguettes. 
It’s all about walking tall and proud, as if I make this walk on a daily basis.  I continue to glance away from every surveillance camera that I pass.
I may seem composed on the outside, but the bistro has stirred my thoughts in an unwelcome way.  I can’t avoid the thought that Will and the others have to be awake by now.  I can picture Will ranting about how he should have trusted his gut in the first place and kept me locked away.  He must be telling Blue that he feels like an idiot for lowering his guard, and that saving his life must have been a clever ploy to gain his trust so that I’d have a chance to escape.  For all I know, he’ll have evacuated everyone by now, and that I’ll never be able to find them again.
Maybe this was a bad idea.  Maybe I’ll come to regret it.
That fear nibbles at me until I take the final turn into a residential district.  Here the houses are tall and brightly colored.  Ample lawns are framed by white fences, and shiny cars sit in driveways lined with garden gnomes and tiny windmills.  The house I’m here for is a soft sky blue.  A large slab of black granite sits in one corner of the yard, the name of the family that lives here proudly inscribed.
Rage bubbles inside me as I stand there in the light of an increasingly sunny morning.  So much pain started here.  Lives changed forever, including mine.
I think of the boy who once called this place home, and the other boy who tormented himself in the years that followed, as I stride toward the house.

Word Count 993/FCA


  1. Firstly, LG, thanks for posting for WEP. Thanks for the list too. It looks good here on your background.

    Thanks for introducing me to an example of Neil Gaiman's writing. I know I should have read him seeing he's like a writing guru, but have never picked up one of his books. Now maybe I will . Great setting in this one!

    I've bought Silent Soliloquy but haven't read it yet, or only just started it. It was good to read this excerpt of your writing. I love the way you start: 'The sky is black. The moon and stars have been obliterated by cloud cover.' It's too late at night now for me to carefully consider the story,so I'll be back tomorrow when I can keep my eyes open!

    Thanks for posting for WEP!

    Denise :-)

  2. Oooh! But what's going to happen? I'm hanging, woman!

  3. Wow, this is brilliant. The description is spot on, enough to guide the reader along the path without being overwhelming. The transition from the "bad" side of town to the "good" is perfectly in synch with the character's physical transformation. Then the hook at the end, which tells me that there are at least 2 more characters that I want to get to know (along with their back stories). I'd love to read more.

  4. Hi,
    Thanks for introducing me to Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. I haven't read it.
    As to your setting, your opening lines are short with precise descriptions that draw me into your story. I can picture myself walking down the street.
    I have a coupon for your book Silent Soliloquy and i look forward to reading it.


  5. The flow Gaiman creates in his description carried me through a labyrinth just as I imagine Neverwhere to look. Excellent choice, L.G.

    You've created quite a tantalizing setting, and I'm wondering why the character is making this journey and why his or her fear switches to rage. I'm curious about Blue (good name) and Will and why this POV character has covered his hair. Love that he's kept his ears free to hear--to be alert. That's good detail.

    So, now I'm writing about the character as "he" but that's my guess, and I think it would be good to make the gender clear. You might also consider deleting, "There are still some signs of human activity, of course." You've done a good job of describing that activity, so I don't think you need to point out that's what you are about to do.

  6. Your excerpt is fantastic! So much tension and hidden emotions, it's hard to read. And the setting is so well intertwined with the action, there are no seams. Definitely done by a master.

  7. L G

    So awesome to see you taking the challenge!

    Neverwhere is an exciting way to introduce Setting – and you've your analysis of London Below, and how it could easily stay hidden 'layered over time.' I especially love the beginning, 'a city in which the very old and the awkwardly new . . .' which a reader anywhere could see as their city. Well chosen!

    Your novella is impressive as we walk this journey with the protagonist, and witness the changing cityscape and her changing wardrobe. I was with her on the journey.

    There is nothing more vital as sunrise when a city begins to awaken, and you've captured that beautifully. She had such presence on the journey but as she gets closer, the doubts begin to rise. Excellent way to set the reader on edge and make them want more! Kudos!

    Thank you L. G. for participating in the WEP Spectacular Settings Challenge with such an excellent piece of writing! Please come back in October for the Halloween Spectacular Youthful Frights vs. Adult Fears!

  8. Hi LG...again! Loved your extract. Such great descriptions and nice tension. I especially love it where two opposites are juxtaposed as you've done here: 'Rage bubbles inside me as I stand there in the light of an increasingly sunny morning.' Great image!

    Thanks again for posting for WEP. We are honoured to have your entry amongst so many excellent entries!

    Denise :-)

  9. Neverwhere is on my top ten favorite books of all time. Seriously. It's the first and my favorite of Neil Gaiman.

    Really loved all these descriptions as she walking through the city. It makes me curious and that's a good thing. I saw another blog post about your release of Silent Soliloquy, but while I haven't had the money for any new books lately, I did add it to my to read list! :)

  10. I read Neverwhere in November 2014.
    My first encounter with Gaiman.
    I was blown away. I've yet to read any of his other work...

    I love the tiny little details that make up the world in your novella.. the partial cigarette, food wrappers, a neon sign, human figure in a pink blanket, wide-collared cerulean sweater, people in jumpsuits, French twisted hairstyle, people with croissants and baguettes... and many other descriptions that bring this world to life... adds depth and makes it believable.
    Great writing, LG!

  11. Beautiful work, and I love the words you choose in your descriptions. Apt, but attention-getting (the roar of a river - I can hear it...and yet I never thought of it in that way). Wonderfully done!

  12. Hi LG. Back for another read for judging. :-)

  13. Great writing. Hey. you got me to Wilson now lead me on. Inquiring minds want to know what happens next.

  14. Glad I made it to this point of the hop. I like Gaiman's work, but I'm excited about your piece. I wonder what happened there in the past and what's about to go down now. Oh, and your setting is good too. I was with this character, walking along beside them, as the scenery changed. Thanks for sharing.

  15. I read A Silent Soliloquy while I was in Greece; it's really good! I love this excerpt too, although I don't fully understand what's going on. The setting is wonderful :)

  16. I'm a big fan of Neverwhere by Gaimon and read it in Paris, leaving it in the apartment we rented for the next occupant. Love that you included it in your post. Your own writing drew me in and I'm left wondering what is this character up to? An excellent entry which has stirred my imagination!

  17. Hi, L.G.

    Excellent choice for excerpt... Gaiman is a genius with words...

    Your excerpt had such tension and atmosphere.... really enjoyed it...

  18. Gaiman writes an awesome setting.

    Loved the movement and changes in your excerpt LG. It gives a sense of both history and the present.

  19. Excellent choice to showcase setting..and your excerpt is paced, suspenseful and the hook at the end is great. What next?