Where Writers’ Ideas Come From: Seeing Through a Character’s Eyes

subway station

In my novel about Manhattan-based architect Archer Landis, he travels from New York to Brussels to visit the site of a major design project about to break ground. His firm, Landis + Porter, has the commission to design the reconstruction of a major station in the city’s rail and subway system. The station I chose for his firm to work on was Schuman station, located in the heart of the European Union district. Aside from strictly architectural considerations, it faces two major challenges.

Foremost, Landis is worried about terrorism, and he wants to be sure there’s nothing about his firm’s design that makes it more vulnerable. Would a glass canopy make terrorists think access is simple, or that they are too easily scrutinized?

I selected Schuman station some years ago when I began working on this book and so was shocked when, in the morning of March 22, 2016, suicide bombers attacked Maalbeek metro station, one stop east of Schuman. This attack was coordinated with two others at the Brussels airport. In all, 35 people were killed and more than 300 injured.

The second concern arises from protests at the site, because it will involve the destruction of a building regarded as “Belgium’s Stonewall,” where a young gay activist was killed some years earlier. The protests seem manageable, and Landis doesn’t immediately realize the danger associated with them.

Eventually, of course, as a matter of business and despite the personal issues he’s facing, he must deal with both of these dilemmas.

To write about Brussels, a city where I’ve never been, I used several detailed maps of the city center and the EU district, and walked the streets with the little guy in Google maps. I studied the websites of hotels near Schuman station, restaurant menus, and news outlets, as well as the station itself, which at that time (2011) was undergoing a major renovation, thoroughly described and dissected online. The availability of that information to me, to you, and to anyone, led to a major epiphany for my fictional architect.

Photo: labwebmaster for Pixabay.

4 thoughts on “Where Writers’ Ideas Come From: Seeing Through a Character’s Eyes

  1. I think the challenge of seeing through our character’s eyes is so fundamental. Years ago, I wanted to write a series with an architect as my character and I had so much fun talking to architects so I could let my character see as they do not as an English major might. You’ve made me very curious about the book now.

  2. Very brave to try to construct a story about a place you have never been to. But you chose wisely. Brussels as the capital of Europe and Schuman station as a central point in Brussels is a choice that gives you lots of material to work with. I spent 3 years in Brussels in the early 90’s as a young diplomat and I can relate very well to the city and its complexities. Great city and country. People a bit strange, but a nice place to be, for a while, especially because of its proximity to Paris, London, the Netherlands, Germany. My office was at a short, walking distance from Schuman station. I loved the experience.

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