World Building - Writing a Living City

I'm going to do a series of world building posts, because there's nothing like travelling to inspire different ways to create places, cultures and characters.

Today's post is about creating a location.

Here's the view from the apartment:

The smog is constant and makes LA look mountain fresh

But how do I paint a picture for those of you who've never been here? The picture above doesn't really offer any real depth.  As writers, we have to bring readers into the world of the book - whether it's real or totally fictional.

You know that whole "SHOW, DON'T TELL" rule? Forget it when world building.  You've got to blend the two to bring your world to life.

So here's an introduction to Mumbai!

I'm living in an apartment block across the bay from the city centre.  Silence does not exist.  Right now I can hear a band drumming so loudly, it sounds like they're in the building.  The sound of vehicles never stops; its a heavy stream, endlessly crawling along the roads.

Home!

The slums are huge and completely unavoidable.  The haphazard shacks are dirty, but many are colourfully decorated with anything from plastic sheets and blankets to old Bollywood posters and Coca Cola signs.  Modern Mumbai seems to have planted itself in  the middle of the slums.  Near to where I live there is a five star hotel, and opposite it is a huge slum.  And these juxtapositions are everywhere. You see buffalo pulling carts next to shining Mercedes.  Our tower block is neat and tidy, but down the street is a building so old and crumbled it would be torn down in the UK. Huge skyscrapers loom over old apartment blocks and the slums. 

It's the traffic I really can't wrap my mind around.  I never want to drive here.  The drivers have some kind of superpower because no matter how close to each other they get, they do not crash.  Two lane roads become five lanes, with mopeds and rickshaws squeezing into whatever gap becomes available.

Count the rows of traffic.
There's no air conditioning in the majority of taxis.  When you're moving, you get a lovely breeze.  But jams are inevitable.  The car stops, fills with fumes, heat seeps in and your clothes stick to you.  And if you're stuck near a canal or the sea, chances are some very bad smells will waft in.

Every vehicle honks several times a minute, long and short sounds.  It's not in anger, it's to say "I'm here, don't hit me." Add in throbbing engines, countless people and a cranked up car stereo and you have to speak up to be heard.

And people have to walk through this traffic to cross the road. In traffic, people weave through the vehicles to sell photocopied paperbacks, magazines, fans, blankets, shades etc... And, sadly, you see a lot of beggars.  But no matter who you are or why you're there, crossing these roads requires concentration and speed.

I'm loving how different it is to everywhere I've ever been.  London is so sedate by comparison; Mumbai is chaotic and noisy and fascinating!

So, how did I do? Have you got a sense of Mumbai?

Comments

  1. What an excellent description and a very timely post given my current struggles with world-building and fighting the infodump. It makes me feel loads better that you said world-building requires a mix of showing and telling. Thank you for that :) Have a great time in Mumbai and keep the stories and pics coming!

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    1. I don't think you can always escape telling. Using it a little is beneficial :)

      I'll update again later in the week I'm sure!

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  2. That was great, really atmospheric. It's a world away, but it reminded me of being in Romania, the mixture of opulent buildings and street children is something you never forget.

    Have a great time!

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    1. Thank you. India is definitely a new experience! I'm really enjoying it ^_^

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  3. Sounds crazy (in the best sense)! :D Thanks for the great description and the photos! I'm loving the photos on Flickr, too! <3

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    1. Crazy is a very good word for Mumbai XD

      Ooh, thanks for reminding me about Flickr. I should post a link here ^_^

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  4. It sounds fantastic, so alive! I hope you're having a fantastic time in Mumbai.

    Travel is just...just! It's the best thing in the world. I don't know how people avoid getting bitten by the travel bug, because as soon as I see something new I want to see something else new.

    I've tagged you in the Lucky 7 meme over on my blog, when you're back to your normal blogging schedule!

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    1. Thanks for the tag!

      You're very right - I'm already thinking of a few places to see in Europe once I'm back from India. I want to see as much of the world as I can rather than stick to my own teeny tiny corner of Earth.

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  5. And I thought London was chaotic! Mumbai sounds even worse! The description is brilliant. It gives me an excellent idea as to what it would be like living or visiting there.

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    1. London is so chilled and so ordered compared to Mumbai! The roads here really defy belief until you're stuck in it!

      Good to know you liked the description!

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  6. Such a great post... it's about noticing all the details around us. India affects all your senses when you're there.. I was very much affected by it.

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    1. Did you have a good time here? India is very full on and there's no getting away from it until you close the door at the end of the day. Today, the pollution is so bad you can hardly see the buildings through the smog. Thankfully, the fans in the apartment are keeping it nice and fresh :)

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  7. Totally envisioning it! I LOVE the idea of a world-building series based on travel experiences. Brilliant. :) Hope you'll share more soon. In the meantime, don't cross the roads!

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    1. I'm hoping to post another part next week :) Need to get a few more curry photos... which won't be hard XD

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