“More than a city or a nation, the world of a book is in its characters. Everything else is a foundation, a stage upon which people can walk, the backdrop to their lives, and how much we see is determined by how little we need. All things are optional except the actions of the people within.
You walk down a street with no name in a city barely mentioned, the buildings around you half formed with occasional detail, but it feels like home. You’ve been told there are cars parked along one side of the street, the two storey houses with no front gardens and steps to the doors, the street curving out of your view at the far end. No one will tell you what kind of cars they are, or the color of the front doors of the houses. Picturing the little things is your responsibility.
A tall man in his forties is walking down the street. Short brown hair and a narrow face, an expression of doubt. That’s all you will be told, and it’s enough. All of the other details of the man’s appearance you have the skill to picture, to make him full and real. In two or three sentences you will receive all of the detail you need to create as broad a picture as you could wish. Multiply those two sentences by thirty and you’ve seen enough of a world to fit a novel into. Multiply by a hundred and thirty and that character is walking through a series.
* * * *
Ed McBain’s 87th precinct novel Blood Relatives gives us an opening sentence that captures everything we need to know about the world we’ve stepped into and nothing more.
She came running through the rain shoeless, neon signs and traffic signals splintering in liquid reflection beneath her flying feet.