Story Setting Inspiration: Brooklyn

In two recent posts I talked about a screenplay I’m working on and how my own unfinished nursery influenced one scene in the story. In the former I mentioned I’d be going up to NY for the day and photographing some points of interest in my hometown in Brooklyn. While Brooklyn isn’t the setting for the story necessarily, it’s what I pictured when I imagined certain locations.

Today I’d like to share some of the photos from that trip. It’s actually quite a lovely neighborhood, though it probably won’t seem that way. I went out of my way to capture some of the less appealing areas and unfortunately ran out of time before an event I was there for, so I didn’t have a chance to get over to the nicer residential areas to photograph the brownstones. But these should offer some insight into the kind of city neighborhood the latest story takes place in.

Residence and Initial Attack

This first picture is a pretty typical residential street on one side of town. This happens to be the street where an aunt and uncle own a place, about half a block from the park I’ll show you shortly and a couple of blocks from the old industrial buildings that were converted to movie studios during the neighborhood’s revitalization years ago.

The younger sister in the story would likely rent an apartment on a street very similar to this, with the typical staircases, open gates, and trees giving the older sister plenty of places to hang out to stalk her early victim.

Brooklyn residential street

This shot is just a typical corner shop. One plays a very minor role in the story, so it probably wasn’t necessary to take this one — just your typical Brooklyn deli and corner store.

Corner Shop - Brooklyn

The next shot is PS 110. It’s across the street from the park I’ll show shortly, and it’s also where I happened to attend Pre-K. There isn’t actually a scene this is applicable to right now. But it had me thinking about locations for the initial attack on the younger sister. A schoolyard would make perfect sense, especially in a case like this. The school takes up quite a bit of real estate, and with a park across the street it’s not as if you’d have many neighbors seeing and hearing what’s happening.

While it’s possible I’ll integrate something like this into the story, I’m not sure about the initial attack. A key element of that is seeing neighbors turn their lights out when they hear the struggle. Very little is scarier for a woman alone in a city than knowing most people are assholes who wouldn’t lift a finger to help if you were in trouble. And I think the initial attack scene is stronger with that element intact. That said, it could always influence a later attack scene with the sisters on the other side of the equation. No plans for that yet, but it’s worth mentioning for the possibility alone.

Brooklyn School

The East River

A body dump is going to be important in the first killing in the story. And what better inspiration than the East River? It just so happens my hometown has easy access.

Trying to get these shots was “interesting” to say the least. I made the mistake of bringing my mother along, thinking she’d enjoy seeing some of her old haunts around town. She almost didn’t let me get these shots (and I really wanted to get more from a few other access points).

We were driving along the access roads, and I finally picked one that looked worth photographing — meaning it looked a bit less-than-safe. Well, let’s just say my mom and I have very different types of street smarts. She’s of the mindset that it’s best to just avoid anything potentially dangerous. And that’s fine. She grew up in a different time when the neighborhood was much rougher and things were simply different.

I, on the other hand, do whatever I want to do without jumping to the conclusion that I’m always at risk just because I’m a woman. That’s not a way I’d want to live. But that said, I’m incredibly observant. I take in my surroundings knowing who and what is around me at any given time. I know what people around me are doing. If a location concerns me, I usually have an exit plan in my head before getting in too far. If I feel really uneasy all of a sudden and I don’t have anything on me that could be used as a weapon, I have a very good eye for scouting potential ones in my environment.

In other words, I choose the route of preparedness and not letting myself be taken by surprise. In particular that day, I made sure to note where all the cameras were — about every ten yards on the movie studio buildings — before even getting out of my car. You’d have to be incredibly stupid to think you’d get away with anything on that block in the middle of the day, so I wasn’t terribly concerned.

In this case, it was totally my own fault though. I stoked my mom’s paranoia. My aunt called and asked if we wanted to come by her place early before the party. I cracked a joke about my mom leaving me all alone by the East River to get mugged or some nonsense, so of course she came with me. It really was a joke. There was nothing serious in my tone at all. I was teasing her for wanting to skip out on me so soon, and she knew that. Still, I stupidly planted that seed in her mind.

So we get to this street and I park the car. There’s a woman walking a dog, and some guy approached her, but she kept going, leaving the area. That was right around the time we got out of the car and I was photographing the graffiti you can see below (the other side of the street is actually quite clean — some of the various movie and TV studios you’ll find around town).

Graffiti Brooklyn

Then I started heading down the block towards the river. Well, that guy started heading towards us. I wasn’t worried in the slightest. There was also one other man there, sitting down by the river. As we got maybe 20 feet behind this second guy, my mom was clearly getting uncomfortable. After all, if you’re women and standing between two men alone on some dead end street, there’s no other option than them being up to no good, right? She tapped my arm and started telling me in a rather urgent tone that we had to leave and get back to the car.

I pulled away from her and said no because I hadn’t taken my photos yet. I climbed onto the concrete to get out far enough over the water to take some photos without the fencing there getting in my way. I was right next to the one guy she was worried about, who really couldn’t give two shits about us being there other than the fact that we were probably ruining his peaceful morning by the water. Here’s one of the shots I took from that vantage point — straight across the river:

East River Ferry

Then the guy walking down the block did approach us. What was this supposed creep my mom was so worried about after? His car wouldn’t start, and he asked me for a jump. Unfortunately I didn’t have cables with me (dumb on my part, I know), or I would have helped the guy out without question. I’ve been there! But my mom still thought he was up to no good. I finally agreed to head back up to the car.

On our way back up the street she starts saying something about him only approaching women, and coming back down a dead end street, and how that proved he was up to something because he’d go up to the main streets if he really needed help.

I had to stop her there. Remember, I pay attention to my surroundings. And I did in this case too. So I pointed out that, no, he wasn’t only approaching women. I listened to him ask the other guy by the river for a jump as soon as we walked away. He was asking everyone he saw for help.

On top of that, I pointed out that the reason he walked back down that street is because that’s where his damn car was. It was down by the river, hood open, literally waiting for someone to give the poor guy a jump. So then she said that car could have just been one someone stripped — you know, on a block that’s well-trafficked all week long because of the studios, because that’s totally where you’d strip a car, and he’d totally luck out and have one sitting there while he’s trying to go after women by asking for a jump.

Well, sorry mom, but I got a much better look (and know a hell of a lot more about cars). The car was not stripped. It was literally just sitting there broken down. This guy just wanted to get it started. That was his big sin. And it’s not even like he pressed us for anything. When I told him I didn’t have cables with me, he just moved on (so I have to assume he didn’t either, or I still would have helped him out). I gave her all sorts of crap for it, but whatever. We left.

Being someone who’s sensitive to the bullshit preconceptions men often have about women and what we’re capable of, I have to say it agitated me to see that kind of judgment happen in reverse, automatically assuming a man must be up to something nefarious just because he dared to approach a woman and talk to her. You have my sympathy (and apologies on her behalf) fellas.

Anyway, back to the story. I also took this shot of the pier just a block or two up from where we were. This struck me as a decent way to dump a body a bit further out in the river (not sure if that’s the plan for the story yet though; it’s probably a bit too far for the one sister to haul a body on her own).

East River Pier

Finally, this is a closer shot of the rocks along the edge of the river. I could certainly imagine a body washing up along a location like this to finally be discovered by the police.

East River Rocks

And that brings our little “adventure” to the East River to a close. I can’t help but wonder if that guy would have bothered asking me for help at all if he knew I was there scouting body dump locations. I should have asked him for ideas. It could have saved us all a headache!

The Park

The final location I’m going to share today was actually the first we visited that morning. It’s the old park most of my family lived near, and where I played as a child. While the playground itself is quite different now, I was happy to see the old statues, tiles, and pavilion haven’t been touched in all this time. They give the place its character.

Park Pavilion

The park isn’t going to inspire anything major in the story. But I did need an end setting where we’ll see the younger sister stalk a future victim. And, frankly, the pavilion right before dusk could be a great place to kill and dump a guy where he wouldn’t likely be found until morning. So why not?

According to my mom, the buildings used to be open to the public when she was younger, but they apparently haven’t been for a long time. Manage to open one of those doors, and you might even be able to buy more time before the body’s found. It’s certainly something to consider.

Park pavilion building

I plan to go back up to the city with my sister at some point this spring or early summer. Being “mom-free” we’ll be able to hit up a wider variety of areas around the city without all the paranoia. It might be too late then to get photos for inspiration for this particular story, but I’m sure I’ll be able to make use of them.

What I’m really looking forward to though is the people-watching, especially while we hang around the subway stations and ride around for a while. When it comes to picking up odd bits of dialogue and being inspired to create off-kilter characters, the people of NYC never disappoint.

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