When Setting Becomes Character

I went to the coolest place today.

These displays are part of the Michael Garman Museum and Gallery. They are a vast collection of the artist’s work, set up in a miniature city called Magic Town.





I’m sharing the experience with you because one thing (or rather thousands of little things) kept me glued to the displays for over an hour – the incredible attention to detail that made the setting come alive.

Magic Town is a slice of American history, showing part of a likely impoverished city that suffers from neglect yet houses the most interesting people. If you go back to the video, you’ll hear a voice – that’s the hologram bartender telling a story. And while the figures obviously couldn’t talk, their appearances and positions told a story.





I told my son to imagine what it would be like to be small enough to walk through the buildings. What would that be like? What would he notice? My writer brain wanted to take one of the characters within this vivid setting and figure out her story. How did she act and interact with the people and things around her?




If you were telling a story in this setting, what details would you include? The woman wearing slippers by the fruit stand? The peeling wallpaper? The pay phones? The bottle on the newspaper being ignored by the man gazing into the cafe’s window?

I’ve read that our settings should become so life-like they become characters. I knew the moment I entered Magic Town that the artist had accomplished this feat. What would it be like to enter the hotel? Or to chat with the fruit vendor? What’s it like in the basement of that building?






How would you describe this setting? What story would you tell?

6 thoughts on “When Setting Becomes Character

  1. Wow, that’s amazing! I get what you mean about the setting being so vivid and detailed, too. So many stories, so much background, portrayed through the visuals alone — or at least hinted. I would probably spend an hour there too, tempted to make up stories about each of those scenes. Thanks for taking all those photos and sharing them!

    Liked by 1 person

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