If you watch movies and TV shows (and who doesn’t?), you might have noticed that a lot of action takes place in New York. Murders, car chases, apocalyptic events, explosions, alien invasions, raptures…on and on. It seems like moviemakers and aliens are always picking on New York. If it’s not King Kong hanging from the Empire State Building, it’s evil supervillains blowing up the Brooklyn Bridge.
It’s possible that I’m hypersensitive to this because I’m from New York (and the possibilities of its destruction became all too real and apparent in 2001), but surely others have noticed as well.
Now, I understand that many movies and shows are set in big cities because those are the places rife with all sorts of scenarios. I mean, can you imagine Law & Order or CSI being set in a small town in the middle of the country? The show wouldn’t last very long. But it seems to me that New York has had more than its fair share of mayhem and destruction.
Perhaps another reason why so many writers (for various mediums) set their stories in big cities, whether it be New York, LA, Chicago, Miami, or some other city: People know those cities, or have at least heard of them. Therefore, it’s easy for the writers to place the action in those locales. They can engage the readers/viewers more easily. However, when I thought about it, I realized that by setting the action in a small town somewhere, it provides the writer with greater possibilities. The less well known a locale is, the more a writer can do with it.
Of course, I’m not saying that a writer shouldn’t be accurate when using a real place as a story locale, but the canvas is a little easier to work with. After all, people would be more willing to believe that a large shopping mall was built in the middle of town in Mazomanie, Wisconsin, than in Manhattan, New York City.
I guess it all depends on what your goal is in choosing a locale. Maybe more stories should take place in parts unknown. In fact, considering the interest people have taken in the past couple of decades for roads less traveled and far-flung places, a writer might be tapping into a receptive market. People no longer want to know just about big cities, tourist destinations, and typical “must-do” activities, but also about small, out-of-the-way places, quirky things to do, and goofy sites to see.
I happen to be one of those people. The great Butterbean Festival in Pinson, Alabama? I was there. A giant chicken on top of a Mexican restaurant in Hatch, New Mexico? Saw it. Some people might think those things are stupid, but I think they’re the oddities that make life interesting. Sure, I like doing “big” or popular things, too, and I have a tremendously long bucket list (I want to see the Aurora Borealis and I’ve yet to go ziplining). But doing unusual things and going off the beaten track give the fabric of life texture, in my opinion. And I believe that more and more people are believing that as well. I get the Atlas Obscura newsletter, which offers glimpses into such things. Every single travel guide will have an entry for the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but did you know that Paris is also home to the Museum of Vampires and Legendary Creatures? Of course if you’re making a trip to London, you’ll want to see Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, but why not also go see Viking poop in York? (I’m serious.) Or take a walk around Soho in London and check out the 7 Noses of Soho, then go have a drink in the Sherlock Holmes Pub.
What I’m saying is, give people something else to read about, to learn, to experience. It might set you apart from everyone else.