On Writing About Places and Spaces in Fiction

How characters relate to spaces and places in fiction is an incredibly intriguing topic for me. I find myself drawn to works that have characters who find deeper meaning from the spaces or places they inhabit with their actions manifested by some connection to the place or space. Some examples are K. and the impenetrable castle in Franz Kafka’s The Castle, the shy Eleanor Vance and the wickedly haunted house in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, and let’s not forget the whimsical yet frightening world of Wonderland that Lewis Carroll’s Alice must endure. 

I often find great inspiration by looking at photos, both my own and others. They help me to remember places I have been or invoke imagination. Images are very relevant to me as a writer. I shall secretly divulge my desire of creating a literary journal that would feature short/flash fiction or vignettes inspired by photos that in someway document “place and/or space.” Writers would cook up what ever they wanted based on the image. I once was involved in an anthology where writers were given carte blanche to write a piece inspired by anything at a private museum’s collection. Also, after recently translating the script of a short film for whose actual film I wasn’t able to view till after I translated it, I relied on photos and other artwork I found on the internet. Half of the script was mostly concerned with the surroundings of the narrator, whether it be in the wild or back in civilization.

So, in lieu of my imaginary literary journal, I present a photo that I can’t stop looking at and the original flash fiction it inspired.

Some would have thought it was the end of the day by how tired Martin looked. His eyes were set back and sunken in folds of skin that were cracked from the cold air that blew in from the large roll-up door that was left open during the day. When he had started working at the factory, his skin was tight and unblemished. The factory walls still looked the same, though, ever since his first day there. They were painted an industrial white that conjured feelings of both cleanliness and insanity. Once while waiting for his paycheck, Martin sat on a folding chair that was placed off to the side. He turned and looked at the walls and saw for the first time the cracks that ran up to the ceiling, the smudges of dirt that had been left by other men waiting for the same thing. Martin put his thumb to the wall and swiped it across. He had left nothing behind. Martin turned his face toward the wall and smelled. Again, nothing.

The walls didn’t smell of the factory. How could this be? He smelled it on himself, on his clothes, and on the other men who walked up and down the main floor watching as machines crunched and whirled. Martin washed his clothes, scrubbing them across a board, listening to the repetitive metallic rhythm of each stroke. The sounds reminded him of the factory’s noises and how they were never supposed to change. If there ever was a change, this meant trouble.

At the beginning of the day, Martin was already tired. The day before, he had heard a different noise on the line. Everyone came to a halt and ran to one side of the main floor. Martin stood there without moving. He looked up to the fluorescent lights that were hanging high above and squinted. Finally, he moved to the far wall away from everyone else and leaned against it. Martin didn’t look toward the wall. Instead, he rested his shoulders back and kicked up one foot to hold his balance. He didn’t think of the dirt at the bottom of his boot that, no doubt, smeared across the imperfect white.

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