[This constitutes part 2 of the two-part introduction.]
Reason for a Fictional City—1a
You ask an excellent question. What, in these days of instant gratification and technological nirvana, would compel a (fairly) healthy 17-year-old to spend his time planning out a fictional city? What would entice him to attempt a street-level relief of a metropolis, with descriptions and labels included?
Fleeting inspiration, perhaps. Maybe I’ll forget about this entire endeavor in a few weeks and go back to video games. Perhaps, in a spontaneous burst of reason, I’ll laugh out loud and exclaim, “I’m an idiot! There’s no point in drawing out the street and building plans for an entire city. I should scrap this plan and study my engineering notes.”
There are two problems with that hypothesis. First, I don’t know a thing about engineering. Second—and I type this with a straight face—there are reasons for a relief this extensive, this detailed. What follows is my attempt to elaborate on them.
Believe it or not, but I have a number of reasons behind Albeit—a number greater than zero. I may as well start with the simplest. Albeit teaches me how to concentrate, how to design, how to commit, how to persevere and how to finish. This reason stands regardless of what happens to the city; I could throw the entire map in a dumpster, and the benefits would remain.
That, of course, wouldn’t justify the city alone. I could still get those benefits out of something easier, not to mention simpler. What drives me to work on the city lies outside the practical and touches on the very reasons I write in the first place.
Without the city, my stories are simply stories: no greater than the sum of their characters. Albeit changes this. Albeit collects all the scraps, all the clippings, all the paragraphs I write about the city and turns them into one collective tale. Each word I write on Albeit accomplishes two things: it tells the plot on the surface, but also helps build a deeper story that threads through all of the works.
If I were planning only a few stories about Albeit, it might have been better to forgo the map and just make things up as I go along. That isn’t the case. If I’m going to be serious about establishing a consistent setting, there needs to be a serious reference for me to use. I’ll need to know major roads, sporting areas, subway stations, shopping malls, churches, airports—the list, as you yourself will see, goes on. Only with a detailed map can I plunge into the details on Albeit. Memory and on-the-job notes don’t do enough.
All writers, I think, aim for a sense of permanence in their writing. It’s not enough for a story to get recognition, then fade away into literary twilight. None of what I’ve written could be considered a “classic,” but if it’s part of Albeit, that gives it longer legs on which to stand. Suddenly, the story becomes important beyond its own literary value; regardless of its narrative success, it remains a descriptive chunk of the city.
Albeit is not just a preservative or link for my writing, however; it’s a repository. Internet aside, it’s never easy to put an idea into action or make use of some new thought. The city acts as an outlet for my right brain, in the sense that any off-the-wall thing I dream up can become part of its very foundation.
Take “Alball,” for example. My friends and I play a game on the street with tennis racquets in which we try to hit the ball over one another and into a goal. What can I make of this idea? Simple. I drop it into the framework of the city, and “Alball” becomes its hometown sport. The same result goes for my ideas about architecture, my all-city subway, my dream university, ideas about geographic planning and even thoughts on society. All of it finds purpose in the city.
Perhaps I haven’t been convincing enough. That’s quite all right. What matters is that I’ve convinced myself. Albeit is not just a side project or something to include with a college education; it’s a connector, a drop box and a preserver for my writing. It lets my stories reach out and touch one another. It lets one character walk off a subway car to find another from an earlier story.
More than anything else, Albeit—map, description and all—lets me write in a new way. That’s more than I could ask from a city built of ether.