Have you ever started writing something, only to stop in frustration because you can’t quite picture the scene? Or maybe you’ve spent hours on Google maps or travel blogs, trying to feel a place in order to write about it convincingly. When people talk about visiting a place they might say it was awesome, or really colorful or something, but most of the time they don’t mention how their legs ached from walking fifteen miles in one day. How the seagulls called to one another or how lanterns swung back and forth overhead in the warm summer breeze along narrow foreign streets. So, in an attempt to help you create a better fictional world, here are ten places I’ve actually been, written out in a way to allow you to feel how I felt living it.
The sun soaks into your bones and the sand under your feet, scorching the soles of your shoes. A wild wind coasts over the low brown mountains and tosses tumbleweeds and dust devils in an endless dance with the highlighter blue sky that stretches infinitely overhead. The only signs of life seem alien; small sandy lizards and the occasional buzzard circling, waiting endlessly from each meal to the next. You feel free, but a tinge of fear stays with you; the desert may be your liberator but it is foolish to mistake it for your friend.
2. Seaside (Cold)
The ocean has taken a turn for the unforgiving; slate grey against a pale grey sky. The sand has become muted too, what was once a colorful view has become foreboding, the kind of sight sailors used to warn each other about. The sea throws itself angrily against the edge, again and again as it carefully works its way up the beach toward you. It would be foolish to stay but more foolish to leave, it seems hypnotic and you suddenly begin to understand why the ocean was once characterized as gorgeously destructive.
3. Grand Canyon
A first you can’t see anything, the long, winding drive through desert gave way to scrub forest long ago, you now can’t see that far ahead of you. Then suddenly you emerge to the top of the hill and step out onto the platform. You can see for miles. A long gorge cuts its way through the earth in front of you, leaving you peering into the middle of the earth, far beneath you. A wind rises out of the canyon as the sun dips behind a large rock formation and you shiver with both awe and a sudden chill. As much as you long to stay there, a deep uneasiness grows in the pit of your stomach; there’s something unsettling about being this close to the edge of this much natural power.
4. Middle of giant city in winter
Greyish snowflakes drift down between steel skyscrapers that stretch so high they block out the source of the flurry. All around you light pours out of shops and restaurants, and reflects off of the traffic that slides past. Somewhere you can hear bells ringing as people collect money for charity; the sound mingles in the air with the honking of horns and the laughter of pedestrians, slightly muffled by the snow. The smell of meat frying blends with the scent of bath products from a nearby bath shop and it makes you feel cold but alive your eyes shining as you pass hundreds of other people without really seeing them.
5. Tiny poor town
The sign off the interstate promised a gas station but the road has paled to light grey and the landscape hasn’t changed from an endless sea of scrubby pine trees and kudzu for miles. Occasionally you see a building take shape in the distance but your hopes are dashed as you draw closer as you see a ticky-tape house covered in storm-worn paint instead of a gas station. Somehow the world feels on the precipice of pluging into something dangerously wild; held back only by crumbling mom and pop shops and the skeletons of vintage cars that have been left to rot in fields and front yards.
6. Seaside (warm)
Walking out past the pavilions that stand on high stilts to protect them from flooding, you marvel at the endless sight that is the greenish-blue water that sparkles as it drifts lazily against the white sand. The sand squeaks beneath your feet as you pass sand dunes and the occasional sun-bather. Your teeth are still cold from the snow-cone you bought back on the boardwalk. A warmth emanates from all around, way out in the bay you can just see boats coming and going and overhead a small airplane buzzes by pulling a banner for a local seafood restaurant.
7. Gated community
It smells like pesticides and freshly mowed grass; the runoff from the golf course is slowly turning the nearby river to sludge, but here the ponds are blue and rippling softly in the warm breeze. It’s hard to see too far; it seems like every few feet another high, wooden fence obscures your view of a brick colonial. It seems peaceful, and as long as you don’t tarry it is, stay too long and you’ll wonder why it’s so quiet. It appears even the animals and insects have abandoned the hull of a landscape the neighborhood has built. It cannot survive outside of the bubble those who live there have created, so instead it atrophies from the inside out before being abandoned leaving a scorch mark where it once reigned.
8. Foreign airport after a long flight
The light drifts in through giant windows and your tired eyes react with confusion. It’s 2 AM where you came from and your brain knows something is wrong. The vendors and shops are bright and colorful, full of people swarming past you talking in a language you don’t understand. You know you should start appreciating everything now, but all you want to do is fall over outside the baggage claim and go to sleep. The thought of food or sightseeing makes you feel nauseous, and you are suddenly reminded of the brutal reality of travel as your backpack digs into your shoulders and unfamiliar customs agents demand to see identification and reasons for visiting. You know you’ll enjoy your trip, just not today.
9. Las Vegas
The desert gave way suddenly and a glassy city rose out of the sand, and oasis of decadence. The strip’s faded sidewalk is full of drunken tourists, live music, and flyers for escorts. Pushing past them into a casino is like walking through a portal to another world. It smells like heavy perfume and cigarette smoke. Everything is marble, gold and glass. The floor is full of jangling slot machines and silent dealers taking money from boisterous patrons. The restaurants and stores are all brand name, looking to appeal to high rollers and lucky winners. Time has no meaning, it could be seven AM or the middle of the evening, and you find that instead of being concerned, you are glad.
10. Tropical Island
The water looks like a liquid gem, shining brilliantly into the rock-lined cove. On one side the cove gives way to warm, pale sand and colorful shells. A dive into the warm saltwater reveals coral reefs and vibrant fish that play hide and seek with you, as if somehow sensing that you mean them no harm. Dragging yourself onto the shore is a struggle, going away from the cove is unthinkable. The sky is a sea in and of itself, dotted with palm trees that sway overhead and colorful birds of paradise that swoop through the tropical sunshine.