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May 18, 2015

Writing About: An Alley


Today I am visiting two bloggers:

Sarah Foster - Interview with a Witch

Lidy Wilks - Evolution of a Story

*********************

An alley is the main setting for my newest short story, Ghost of Death. Allies have actually been used quite a few times in several of my other unpublished stories. I like the darkness, mystery, and creepiness of alleys, which makes them good scenes for thrillers.


If you ever write about an alley, focus on the five senses:

Sight This is the most important sense when it comes to alleys (or any location, really), so readers can imagine it clearly. What does your character see? Potholes full of filthy water, trash from fast-food wrappers to soiled diapers, flattened cardboard boxes and piles of wood often litter allies. Also, is there a Dumpster spilling over with waste or fire escapes? Is the alley deserted or occupied with homeless people, drug addicts, or a hungry dog? Let your imagination run wild and use vivid descriptions to paint a good (but dirty) image of an alley.
TIP: Dumpster is capitalized because it is a trademark. I learned that last year.
SmellThis is the next most important sense as alleys are usually reeking with several nasty smells. Let your character get assaulted by the scents of the alley such as rotting trash, feline as well as human urine, gasoline, and even vomit. It may not be pleasant to think about, but it sure will add something to the scene.

Sound
Alleys can be quiet. They can also echo the sounds of the street: sirens, the rumble of vehicles, and the beep of garbage trucks. People could be fighting in the alley, filling it with the grunts and thuds of fists colliding into bodies. If it’s a stormy night, the crack of thunder and the drip of rainfall will drown out any other noises.

Feel In Ghost of Death, my MC steps back into a puddle and cold, slimy water bathes her feet. Does your character pick something up or touch something? Describe the feel of it in his or her hands. You can also consider other factors of this sense such as whether it’s cold and how the ice nips at your characters skin, or how sweat slithers down his/her back from the heat.

Taste I would not advise having your character(s) eat anything in an alley (unless your character is homeless and desperate for food), but sometimes smells can settle on our tonges. Or maybe your character gets attacked and blood fills his/her mouth with a metallic taste.




QUESTIONS: Have any of your characters found themselves in an alley? Have you read a book with an alley as a setting?


102 comments:

Nick Wilford said...

Thanks for the very vivid tips! It's a claustrophobic setting, particularly if the alley is a dead end. It can heighten the character's senses if they're cornered and have to look for an escape route.

Lidy said...

Hi Chrys, loving the alley tips. In chapter 1of my wip there's an alley scene and would definitely use these and my senses to enhance that setting.

Chrys Fey said...

Exactly! And in my story the alley is a dead end. ;)

Chrys Fey said...

I'm glad I can help, Lidy. :)

sage said...

Good tips! We had an alley behind our house where I lived for three years (grades 1-3) that was a neighborhood playground, but it could be seen easily from homes on both sides (so parents could keep an eye on us) and the only traffic was garbage (and you knew when they were coming) and utility trucks which were infrequent.

Jo said...

Unless they figure briefly because somebody cuts through to get somewhere else, alleys seem to be rather disgusting places when used in books.

Chrys Fey said...

An alley that was a neighborhood playground? That's interesting.

Chrys Fey said...

They sure can be disgusting places, which is why they are perfect for murder stories. ;)

Unknown said...

An alley seems pretty limited in terms of the type of stories you can have there. If you're characters go into an alley, you know they're not going there to take an exam ;)

Unknown said...

*your

Chrys Fey said...

That's very true, Michael. Only certain stories...thrillers and mysteries will bring their characters to an alley. But...hey...it could be an exam or test of some kind if a gang is involved. See how that work? :P

TBM said...

Hmmm...I don't think I've included many alleyways in my writing. I wonder why.

Chrys Fey said...

I think your type of stories could easily include an alley.

I read Marionette and reviewed it on Saturday. I really enjoyed it and love your characters. :)

Shell Flower said...

These are some great tips. I love the eagle photo, too. I've heard they are like pigeons in Alaska.

Sarah Foster said...

Great tips! I'd never thought about using an alley in a story.

Dixie@dcrelief said...

I can tell you - I used to work third shift counselor at a rehab. The worse odor was someone in the last throes of Aids. I will never forget that. Someone can walk by me in a store and I know they have that disease. It's unnerving.

Great post of ideas, Chrys, thank you!

Christine Rains said...

Alleys are great spots for events in urban fantasy. Dark and out of sight from the street. Lots of supernatural critters crawling around! That eagle picture is pretty neat. :)

Chrys Fey said...

They're like pigeons in Alaska? That's hard to imagine.

Chrys Fey said...

Thanks, Sarah! Any place can be a setting in a story. :)

Chrys Fey said...

That sounds disturbing, Dixie. I hope I never know what that smells like.

Chrys Fey said...

Very true. I can picture all sorts of creepy critters in those shadows. *shutters* ;)

Pat Hatt said...

An alley can be a great set up indeed. But usually stuck with so much, unless there is a secret passageway in there haha

Kelly Hashway said...

Smells in an alley can be quite interesting and very gross. lol

Jennifer Hawes said...

I think I feature an alley in at least two of my books, including my WIP. It's set in Chicago, so there's plenty of back alleys to explore!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Dumpster is capitalized? Now I know.

Stephen Tremp said...

I have one alley scene. Its not epic, just an SUV plowing through alleys full speed and sending people jumping back indoors and trash flying all over the place.

nashvillecats2 said...

Most interesting and vivid tips Chrys, enjoyed the post.
Yvonne.

cleemckenzie said...

Dumpster Diving Eagles! I've never seen that before. And you're absolutely right. Alleys are an essential detail in any story with an alley involved.

Anonymous said...

My characters always find themselves in alleys. They usually end up doing something with the dumpster. Jumping on it, blowing it up. Ya know, things like that. ;)

Unknown said...

These are great tips for writing any setting! I have yet to write an alley scene...perhaps eventually it'll pop up.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

If my character tastes something I'm sure it will be awful.

S. L. Hennessy said...

I think my characters had a fight with some bullies in an alley once. I definitely think sensory images (especially with something like an alley) is definitely the way to go!

Lisa Thomson said...

Very vivid descriptions, Chrys! No, my characters haven't found themselves in an alley but I love the idea for suspense and or loneliness. You've described them so well here, just like our alleys downtown Vancouver. Sometimes you see a clean one which is always a pleasant surprise.

Just finished Hurricane Crimes this morning! Loved it!! Will post reviews very soon. :)

Sherry Ellis said...

You can really engage all of the senses with an alley setting!

J.H. Moncrieff said...

Sad to say all my writing and reading have been alley free. I'm not sure why--you're right, it is a great setting. I hate the alley behind my house. I wish it didn't exist.

That's really interesting about Dumpster. I didn't know that. And that pic of the eagles is awesome!

Chrys Fey said...

A secret passageway would come in handy for character in danger.

Chrys Fey said...

Haha. I agree. :P

Chrys Fey said...

Yay for alley settings! :)

Chrys Fey said...

It is. That was something I learned while reading a book last year. In 30 Seconds I didn't capitalize it, but now I know to do it.

Chrys Fey said...

Oh, but that sounds pretty exciting.

Chrys Fey said...

Thanks, Yvonne.

Chrys Fey said...

Neither have I. I thought the picture was pretty cool and thought some readers could get a kick out of it.

Chrys Fey said...

Blowing up Dumpsters. I wouldn't want to be around when your characters do that. haha

Chrys Fey said...

Yes, using all the scenes for any scene is important to set it up.

Chrys Fey said...

No doubt about that. Ick!

Chrys Fey said...

Fights usually happen in alleys, don't they? :)

Chrys Fey said...

A clean alley? I'd like to see one of those! ;P

Thank you so much! Whenever I know someone is reading one of my eBooks, I get nervous. :)

Chrys Fey said...

Exactly. That's why I love alley settings!

Jay Noel said...

I was in Birmingham last week, and participated in a Ghost Tour. We walked by an alley where 50 citizens charged city hall, and 20 people were killed. They say that investigators caught an EVP with a disembodied voice stating very clearly, "Count the bodies."

Chrys Fey said...

Well, maybe an alley...a spooky alley...will make it into one of your future stories. I bet you'd do a great job making it come to life.

Chrys Fey said...

I have ALWAYS wanted to go on a Ghost Tour/Walk. I've also always wanted to use one of those EVP devices. :)

That's creepy!

Carrie-Anne said...

I've used an alley sometimes, but I can't recall having used it as a setting for a prolonged period of time. My character Urma Smart (née Pancake), the town psychopath, made up a story about being cornered in an alleyway by a drunken Mortez (her future husband and father of her child) to avoid telling her parents she'd willingly gotten drunk and had sex at fifteen years old. She eventually comes clean, but Mortez never forgets the lie she told about him.

Then in my second Russian historical, Anastasiya catches antagonist Boris having sex with his clandestine girlfriend under a fire escape in an alley in the Upper East Side. Anastasiya is a bit of an antagonist herself, and rather light-headed, but this is one of the times she shows she's not some moron, and has quite a few choice words for Boris.

Sunni said...

Chrys,

I love alleys for all the reasons you describe. I think they work well in mysteries and thrillers. I do have an alley in my mysteries series and I do believe I've covered all the issues you describe. Hoping to publish my first in the trilogy this year. It's with an editor now.

Good subject for your post.

Sunni

http://sunni-survivinglife.blogspot.com/

Sunni said...

Chrys,

You use what you have as a playground. We used to play in the pasture and had to dodge the cow patties all the time, sometimes missing of course.

Sunni

http://sunni-survivinglife.blogspot.com/

Cindy said...

An alley does allow for a lot of disgusting description. A perfect place for a thirller.

Chrys Fey said...

Well, because my story is short it was easier to make an alley a setting for most of it such as the beginning and the climax.

Chrys Fey said...

I have my fingers crossed for you, Sunni! I'd love to read your alley scenes. :)

Chrys Fey said...

Ha! Yes, it certainly does. I guess because I like darker tones, that's why alleys appeal to me.

Sandra Cox said...

One of my opening scenes was in an alley and I wished I'd read your post before I wrote it. You came up with some images I didn't think of.

Sean @ His And Her Hobbies said...

I had never put that much thought into alleys as they are places I tend to avoid. I have never written about an alley but this would be great material to use if I did or about anything else really.

Sean at His and Her Hobbies

Stephanie Faris said...

There is something spooky about an alley. I can't say I've ever included one, although I did have a scene in a narrow hallway filled with lockers once. It was sort of alley-ish!

Mary Kirkland said...

I really liked the alley setting in your book. Alleys can be very creepy.

Liz A. said...

Oh yikes, I do not go into alleys often enough. And come to think of it, my main character does spend some time in one. Ick...

Birgit said...

Alleys can be creepy and scary. I have been in an alley with a friend and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Urine, throw-up and gross things were all around so I got out of there in a hurry and then told my friend never again!

Kathryn Thornton said...

Great reminder of how important descriptions using all our senses are. I always wonder why that person went in to the alley. No, don't do it.

betty said...

I try to stay out of alleys; now I think I know why.

betty

Sharon Himsl said...

Hi. Dark alleys have always creeped me out, and I couldn't resist using one in my novel. And it works so well in your short story too. I find it interesting that the same alley in the daylight wouldn't bother me at all....unless it's in a bad part of town. You can learn so much about a neighborhood this way.

Nilanjana Bose said...

Both my characters and I avoid alleys :) but your tips about engaging all the senses are good for every setting really.

Shannon Lawrence said...

This has nothing to do with my writing, but I thought it was funny you posted about this, because we were just visiting Estes Park, CO this weekend, and we walked through an alley to get to the main street. My son, who is 10, exclaimed that he could officially say he'd walked in an alley now (he reads a lot, so I'm sure he's read about plenty of alleys). We then had an entire short conversation about alleys, and whether we'd been in any. Unfortunately (though fortunately for us that day), it was a clean alley. Pretty spotless, to the point that someone must have swept it. I've never been in an alley so clean.

Unknown said...

See, that's why you're the published author and I'm not ;)

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

You sure bring an alley to life with your descriptions. I've never written about an alley, but want to now. :) I have read a couple of books where part of the action takes place in an alley. Great tips. Maybe an alley is in my future.

Tamara Narayan said...

Does anything good every happen in an alley? I don't think I've written a scene in an alley, but I must have read many. Not any particular one coming to mind except Stephen King's IT when Bev is running away from her possessed father near the end.

Chrys Fey said...

Thank you, Sandra, but I;m sure your opening scene is great. :)

Chrys Fey said...

Haha. That is a little alley-ish. And schools can be nightmares.

Chrys Fey said...

Thank you, Mary! :D

Chrys Fey said...

I don't think I've ever been in one. lol

Chrys Fey said...

Yeah, I'm not sure if I'd ever want to be in an alley, but I like to put my characters in them. ;)

Chrys Fey said...

Ha! It is like watching a slasher movie when someone goes upstairs. :P

Chrys Fey said...

Smart, very smart. ;)

Chrys Fey said...

I couldn't resist either! The best thing a writer can do is writer about things that creep him/her out.

Chrys Fey said...

Thanks, Nilanjana.

Chrys Fey said...

I'm psychic, that's why I posted it. :P Your son has done more than I...I've never been in an alley, dirty or clean.

Chrys Fey said...

Thank you, Beverly! :)

Chrys Fey said...

I don't think so, Tamara. That's why they are best to be avoided...unless you want a character to get into some trouble. ;)

Jeffrey Scott said...

I don't recall reading anything about alley's in any of the books I've read. Same goes for stories I've written. But your descriptions above does remind me of the alley scene in Dream Team. Sight of a dirty alley, Smell of urine, as others are encouraged to urinate in the alley. The sound of someone getting beat up, then murdered. An irate neighbour yelling down "what is going on down there". The course feel of the brick wall as Albert steadies himself to urinate, then sees his psychiatrist laying on the ground, feeling the cold pavement, blood in his own mouth. Your points above, certainly remind me of that scene.

Anonymous said...

My characters have been in alleys before, but a part of me wants to always write them as normal and clean because it seems like everyone turns them into horrific, nasty places with bums fighting and people shooting up in the corner. I don't know. I mean, I've been in normal alleys before.

Chrys Fey said...

That is a vivid scene. Even how you described it.

Chrys Fey said...

That's true, Madilyn. I've never heard of a clean alley in fiction. I think the dirty ones are more fun to write about in thrillers, though.

Yolanda Renée said...

My first book had a murder take place in an alley. Great place to sneak up on someone with little chance of detection. Great tips!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I suppose you're right!

Chrys Fey said...

Exactly! ;)

Chrys Fey said...

I'm glad you think so, Sean. :)

emaginette said...

I did. My MC was trying to sneak away and used an alley to escape. I love the post and it looks like I'm not the only one. Well done!

Anna from Elements of Writing

Chrys Fey said...

Thanks, Anna! In 30 Seconds, my hero and heroine use alleys to escape too. :)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

No alleys for my books but I find them to be creepy places in real life. At least in cities. They're okay in small towns.

Elizabeth said...

It seems that when I see an alley in a movie, someone is always cornered and trying to get out by going up. That is a great idea for approaching any story, by thinking about the 5 senses, thanks for the advice!

Bevimus said...

Great points, here! I feel like I, like so many other writers, often neglect the other 4 senses and they're so important to make the reader really lose themselves in the writing.

Chrys Fey said...

City alleys are the worst.

Chrys Fey said...

Climbing fire escapes are a good way to escape, if there are fire escapes.... ;)

Chrys Fey said...

I always try to use as many senses as I can. :)

J Lenni Dorner said...

Fascinating! No, I haven't read any stories that take place mostly in an alley that I can think of... maybe some short stories, but no whole books. That sounds like a tricky setting. Looks like you handled it well. I didn't know Dumpster was a proper noun. Huh. Thanks for the knowledge.

Chrys Fey said...

Well, yes, a novel wouldn't be able to play out entirely in an alley, but it could have a big scene set in one. :)