This paper investigates the ways in which literary studies and critical theory can be used to provide writers with productive creative models for representing ‘real spaces’: that is, the incorporation of real locations within a creative work. Many new creative writing students begin with the premise ‘write what you know’, but often overlook the implications of including the names of real places in their work—whether it be Paris, Paddington Station or Prahran. The paper argues that the examination of existing creative work allows writers to understand the practical and the political ramifications of this activity.
The paper will outline the literary research I undertook as I prepared to write creative work based on my experiences of travelling in international cities. My research uncovered two models used by writers to use real spaces in texts. First, writers may use identifiably real locations to confirm the validity of a fictional world: when a writer places a fictional plot in a ‘real’ place, it becomes instantly more plausible. Such writers draw upon Barthes’ notion of ‘the reality effect’: the use of actual—but seemingly inconspicuous—places and objects that declare to a reader that the fictional world and our own reality are identical (Barthes 1986, 148). I will explore this strategy through a close reading of Agatha Christie’s 4.50 from Paddington. Second, and more complex, writers may use real spaces to expose or challenge representational power structures: a writer might make a correlation between a real space and a discursive position and, in doing so, allow readers to engage with both a plausible world and an ideological agenda. Such writing builds on de Certeau’s conception of mapping as ‘strategic’ control over meaning, as well as space (de Certeau 1984, 30). I will examine the ways Toni Morrison negotiates the power structures of New York in her text Jazz.
Through this analysis, I aim to demonstrate the beneficial interaction that can take place between literary studies and creative writing. Writing students who engage in an exploration of both the practical and the theoretical impulses of existing texts may be able to recognise such impulses in their own writing, and thus reflect more productively on the cultural and social implications of Creative Writing in general.