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The Horror and Romance of Dead Malls

Somehow, over the holidays, I stumbled over videos about dead malls. It’s an entire genre on YouTube. A lot of things clicked for me. Is there anything more symbolic of a society in decline than an abandoned temple to consumerism or, worse, one that only has a 15%-20% occupancy rate? Enclosed ghost towns with crumbling parking lots, leaking ceilings, and scars where the signs of formerly prosperous anchor store chains once were. Mall have died for a lot of reasons, including the rise of the internet, the decline of the middle class, and stagnant wages leaving people with little or no disposable income.

The work-in-progress was originally conceived as a contemporary Gothic story. My main character is a woman forced to take a job she really doesn’t like. She’s reached her threshold of tolerance for toxic masculinity, even though her life would be easier if she just gave in to it. For the obligatory crumbling architecture, I settled on an old hotel vaguely modeled after the historic Chelsea. It was once a place where writers, artists, and musicians lived. Now, it’s crumbling after decades of neglect. My protagonist was already struggling with student loan debt. She moves into the residence hotel, in what’s now a bad part of town, more out of financial need than for the romance of the location.

The Horror and Romance of Dead Malls

The Century III Mall outside of Pittsburgh in particular caught my attention. It was built over a slag heap, the waste product of another dead boom industry in the United States, steel manufacturing. Building on top of that wasn’t wise because the ground settled, the foundation cracked, and the mall developed serious structural problems. There’s plenty of allegory to play with there.

Having the once-famous hotel become eclipsed by a modern shopping district, which has also fallen, spoke to me. It was once a desirable neighborhood, and now it’s the poor part of town. I based it partially on my own experiences in Albuquerque, where I lived in a formerly thriving Route 66-era motel that had been converted into studio apartments. I was within walking distance of three mall, one abandoned, one dying, and another recently refurbished by struggling. All of which begs to be used in a Gothic tale meant to serve as commentary on the modern world.

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Introducing Your Fictional World

My writing is admittedly formulaic. I want to break free from that. It comes from being a technical writer/trainer in my corporate life, and the nature of my current publishing niche. There’s a lot of cold, clinical explanation. For fiction this turns into dry-as-dust exposition. While I’m working break free from that in the first draft, I’m also consoling myself that it can be fixed with rewrites and during the editing process. I say this because in introducing your fictional world you want to lay the groundwork for things that will be explained later, rather than hitting the reader with a firehouse of trivia.

Some of this comes out in my descriptions of the setting. I’m trying to lean into the old saw that one should show, not tell. To do this I’m not describing the surroundings as they are, but as the characters are experiencing them. Another device is to offer up enough context for the reader to piece things together for themselves. At the very least, I am trying to postpone explanations until a bit after they happen, so that there aren’t continual pauses for information dumps.

Introducing Your Fictional World

This book starts off with the main character arriving in a new place. That scenario opens up possibilities for her to compare and contrast, which provides some explanations in a more organic way. Being new also opens up possibilities for conversations. Supporting characters can ask her what she thinks of the new place, or what her old place was like. I try to keep these brief, and also make them reflect the characters. A nosy or curious person might ask a lot of questions. The types of questions, whether they’re shallow and politely conversational or prying, says a lot about them. The answers provided speak to whether the person is open and chatty, or closed, awkward, or defensive.

Progress Report: Day 10

  • Today is day 10 of 90 on my journey to write the first draft of a novel.
  • Yesterday I wrote 615 words, bringing the total to 8,072.
  • That puts me 2,672 words ahead of my target goal, based on writing 600 words per day.
  • I’m currently working on the first scene of the second act, where the main character is trying to make lemonade out of the lemons the first act gave her.

Notes

  • All of this month’s blog posts are going to be collected into an ezine format. I’m not sure if I want to give it away, sell it for a buck as a means of supporting the site, or some combination of both. Your feedback on the matter is appreciated.

Thanks for Visiting

Comments? I want to hear them! Questions? I want to answer them! Leave a message below and let’s chat about writing!

Come along on this journey with me, as I fumble around and figure out what I’m doing. Go to the bottom of the page and subscribe to the site, if you haven’t already! Never miss a new post!