A couple weeks ago, I stepped off my second flight and into the Indianapolis airport. I’d never been to Indianapolis before. I don’t think I’d ever even been to Indiana before. But I already had my shuttle ticket to get to the hotel, and the shuttle stop was easy to find. It was also my first business trip, and my first experience with the certain knowledge that even if the hotel room wasn’t already paid for, I would be reimbursed in full. In return, I just wouldn’t leave the hotel at all that weekend in favor of attending seminars for the conference I was there for.
The clerk at the front desk handed me key cards to a room on 19th, the top floor. Riding the elevator up, I noted with approval that observed proper hotel superstitions and did not have a 13th button. Once in the room I had all to myself (a stroke of luck at the last minute, but one I’m grateful for), all I wanted was to eat, wash the feeling of airplane off of my skin and hair, and get enough sleep for the start of the conference the next day.
So I didn’t quite take in the view at first. Here’s the thing about Indiana: it is apparently very flat. From the 19th floor Indianapolis stretched out around me like a pancake in every direction, with occasional buildings sticking up a bit. It’s a very different place from my native California, where even outside of San Francisco we have rolling hills all over the place. I’ve also been to Montana, the Big Sky state, and even their flat plains are interrupted at the edges by steep inclines. I suppose I must have encountered similar completely flat terrain on the standard eighth grade field trip to the East Coast, but all I remember is visiting Gettysburg and thinking, “What ridge?”
Point of view makes a difference. As I mentioned in my Sunday gratitudes, I don’t think I’ve ever felt such a fierce pride of place for any other area that I’ve lived in before this point. I’ve never been a very homesick person. When I went to college in New York, I was comfortable with every part of being so far away from home except for the reality of ice on the paths in the winter. But now that I’m back, and a little older and wiser, I find that I love these hills. This is my home.
And of course point of view also makes a difference in fiction. Any character visiting a new place for the first time is going to think about it and react to it differently than someone who sees it every day. Even if the two characters might arrive at the same thought or conclusion eventually, they take different routes to get there because the way they each look at their surroundings is different. As an author it can sometimes be hard to create a place but view it from more than one perspective — thus the importance of world building.
An interminable writing exercise my creative writing teacher in high school would do every year was the classic “what would someone of the opposite gender think when they walk in your room.” (I don’t actually know how classic this is, I just felt like saying that.) For the most part, the guys wrote that a girl would walk into the room and think, “OMG this room is so not messy,” and the girls wrote that a guy would walk into the room and think, “OMG this room is so messy.” These are boring as hell to read, or to hear read… unless the written very well, but you don’t always get that in a high school classroom. Seriously though, that’s world building too. It has to be 3D, even if it is just in your head.
Anyone else might’ve stood in that hotel room on the 19th floor looked out, and simply thought, “Yep, that’s a city all right.” Or I don’t know, I don’t know what else there is to think about it. I was in Indianapolis for such a short time and, besides the hotel, only got to see the Hard Rock Cafe and the baseball stadium that I could look down into from my window. But what would you see?