Fiction

Multiplicity and Simultaneity Exercise: Writing the City

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In the essay about writing the Great London Novel of the 21st Century, Professor Litt made a point about multiplicity and simultaneity. In class, he wanted us to do some exercises that could help us expressing these concepts. So while multiplicity is all about lots of people, buildings, occupations etc., simultaneity expresses that all this comes at the same time.

The first exercise he wanted us to do was all about describing groups of people doing different things in Oxford Circus. He wanted us to write in terms of group. Here is my description.

Businessmen were hurrying to get to work on time. They gripped their coffee cups so hard they seemed like they were going to crack. Tourists were speaking too loudly for anyone to tolerate that early in the morning. Workers were cursing at groups of people milled around enormous maps, as they were slowing their journey to the office.

The second exercise was about describing the single actions that the individuals, and not groups of people, were performing in Oxford Circus.

A guy working at a Costa Coffee was polishing the window of the place. He looked at a student’s legs who was walking in front of the entrance. She had a ponytail and was carrying some books. As her Oyster Card slipped from her hands, a businessman picked it up and gave it back to her. He wore a blue suit and a tie, and he smiled at the girl before starting to walk fast again, heading to Regent Street. An old man tried to give him a free copy of the Evening Standard.

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After this exercise, Professor Litt wanted us to make the individuals interact with each other – which I had already did, but I kept on doing in the next one.

As the old man handed the newspaper to him, shouting “free prints!”, the businessman gave him an icy look. The city was awakening and the businessman didn’t seem keen to take on shouts and read a tube tabloid. He had his Indipendent under his arm, with the title of the newspaper out, as he wanted everyone to see what he considered to be the right way of getting information. 

The story we need to write for our final project must be set in London. We need to understand the right ways to convey to the reader that our characters are surrounded by many kinds of people, with different lives and aims. This means writing the city. There are many questions that we need to ask to ourselves – who do we want to choose to write about? Someone at the top, middle of bottom of social class? Do we want to write about a small group, a microcommunity within the city? Despite our choice, there is a lot that surrounds these classes, these communities. A city has many elements, and those elements must make writing the city real.

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