Giving a Fictional City a Personality Quirk

Water 7

I thought about this while watching a ‘One Piece’ episode.  Sadly, I couldn’t find a good picture of Fishman Island’s water tunnel transports.  Instead, I went with Water 7 and it’s canals.  So, what is the point of this?

A lot of fictional cities have a unique structure or aspect to them.  This is very common in fantasy and science fiction.  Most often, it’s some kind of transportation that replaces buses and subways.  It can be a technological advancement like the tubes in ‘Futurama’, natural like dragons in Pern, or magical like teleportation runes in any number of video games.  These set pieces become the identifying mark of the city.  Readers, players, and viewers will think of them whenever they hear the city’s name.  Sometimes, they might think of this when they hear the series.

Now, I don’t think this is necessary, but it’s a nice touch of flavor.  If you’re not working with Earth, you don’t have to be constrained by what we have.  Magic and technology can change how urban areas evolve.  Even if the buildings are structured similar to medieval times, they can have an awe-inspiring aspect.  For example, most of the locations I made in Windemere are European medieval in appearance.  Yet, I put a unique piece in each location such as the griffin mountain in Gaia or the booby-trapped rooftops in Rodillen. I found that this prevents the locations from being identical and not seeming to be very important in the grand scheme of things.

After all, you want locations to be seen as important to both the story and the world, especially with large cities.  There are many people here, which means it has to be big and highly developed.  Just like what we have in the real world, a big metropolis will have something to make it stand out.  This can be a single building too, which may be a source of tourism.  It can also be a local event or creature that the characters will be interacting with.  The entire point is to give the location a quirk that allows it to stand out from other areas.  Even if the characters only spend a chapter there, it will be seen as important and worthwhile.  At the very least, people will hope that they get to go back to the city and explore it some more.

The truth is that these are only as difficult to create as you make them.  I’ve found that the more complicated the quirk, the bigger the potential headache.  The payoff is pretty good though, so many would say it’s worth it.  Much of it depends on what you need to happen in the city too.  Something that is more for window dressing or quickly moving around don’t have to be very complicated.  They just have to be functional and/or flashy enough to get attention.  If the quirk is plot essential, you’re going to have to put more meat into it, which is where the difficulty can be amped.  Again, this is very much worth it to many authors because it draws readers in and makes the area memorable.  It can also set up the level of technology or magic in the overall world.

As I’ve said, I try to do this with as many of my locations as possible.  I want them to be unique on some level.  It does get more difficult as I make more cities because I don’t want to copy anything.  The easier quirks obviously come to mind first, but I end up feeling like I have to constantly outdo myself.  By the time I’ve hit Darwin’s series, I’m having to take about 30 minutes to consider location quirks.  Sometimes I just write and see what turns up while I’m doing the initial description.  You can get pretty far that way, which is a big reason why pantser and plotter combo is a preferred way to go.

So, what do you think about cities with a unique set piece?  Do you have a favorite?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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14 Responses to Giving a Fictional City a Personality Quirk

  1. noelleg44 says:

    I’ve made the imaginary town of Pequod a character in my books!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. L. Marie says:

    Great post! What fictional cities inspired your creation of Nyte?
    To answer your question, two favorites are Armethalieh in the Obsidian trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory and Minas Tirith in LORD OF THE RINGS. At first I thought of Ancelstierre in the ABHORSEN series by Garth Nix. But that’s more of a country than a city. Though Corvere is the capital, I don’t usually think of it, because in SABRIEL the main character was at a school in northern Ancelstierre. So we only really saw that environment or Bain a town she traveled to. I thought of Armethalieh first because of the magic system—high and wild magick—and the bells constantly heard throughout the city. The authors took a lot of time to show the city. So, Armethalieh seems like a character in the books. 😊 Minas Tirith with its wall and seven levels is so memorable and lovely.


    • Nyte was based on traditional vampire castles like Castle Dracula. Nytefall was made the opposite. Thought that all the Dawn Fangs coming from different regions would result in a hodgepodge.

      Liked by 1 person

      • L. Marie says:

        Always fun to “walk” the streets of an imaginary city. 😊 For some reason I can’t as readily think of cities mentioned in Star Wars, though I’ve seen the movies and some of the animated series. I actually had to look up the cities and felt silly that I’d forgotten about Coruscant or Gungan City. One reason is that I don’t really care about the Gungans. And as for Coruscant, I think more of interiors of buildings than the city itself.


      • Mos Eisley and the Ewok village are all that quickly come to mind. Though, Star Wars tended to go with planets instead of cities on the planet.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this idea and it’s worth some thought. I probably did it on accident with my cyberpunk version of San Francisco.


  4. V.M.Sang says:

    I enjoyed the rooftop traps in Rodillon. A good idea.
    I haven’t as yet done anything special. I think I must remedy that.
    Well, Frelli, the capital city of the country of Erian has streets built in such a way that only those born there can find their way about. They are like a labyrinth winding around so one minute you’re going north, then the next south, when your destination might be to the east.


  5. For me, the total architecture is what gives cities their personality. Then you add in weather, what kind of food people eat, the clothes they wear. You also can add some diversity by having different “quarters” with their own visual style and who lives there.


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