Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Little NYC Enlightenment

Dear Well-Meaning Writer,
I know. You really want to write about New York. I mean, it's the center of the world! The creative hub of...everything! (Or something like that.) You've been dreaming about living in New York ever since you were but a wee child. You've watched all the New York movies and TV shows, and if you could, you would be living in the 212-917-718 RIGHT NOW. (Or maybe the 516. It's not 917, but it's not bad.)
But since life is the way it is, you're not living in New York. So instead, you write stories that take place there.
It's totally understandable- I mean, there are a LOT of people who live in New York City (the five boroughs- not just Manhattan). Around 8.4 million people, actually. That's a lot of people, and a lot of stories to write.
But here's the problem: I'm not quite sure that you did your homework. See, there are a few reoccurring issues I find in fiction based in NYC, and as a resident of NYC myself, I find it incredibly frustrating, and frankly, a tad irresponsible. If you're going to write about something you don't know about, it would be a good idea to research said thing first. And contrary to popular belief, watching TV shows set in NYC is not enough research.
And since I really, truly mean well, I'm going to help your research by bursting a few little NYC bubbles- especially applicable to those who write NA.

(Note: from now on, when I say NYC, I'm referring to all five boroughs. FYI.)

Myth/Trope #1: MC lives in a nice apartment somewhere in NYC. Perhaps they share it with a roommate. It's a little small, but not too bad.

TRUTH: LOL, my friend. L. O. L. If there are nice apartments anywhere in NYC, they are very far out of your MC's price range. (Oh, and in real life? There is no way that you could ever afford any of the apartments in most TV shows. Those things either cost more than God, or don't exist.)
Some numbers, perhaps?
The average cost per month to rent a one bedroom apartment...
In DUMBO? Around $3,934
In Bay Ridge? Around $1,587
In Soho? Around $4,974
In Harlem? Around $2,655
In LIC? Around $2,500
In Bayside? Around $1,500

Not a bad kitchen. Pretty decent size, actually. 
Now, Bayside may sound like the best bet for you, oh poor MC, being that it would cost you ONLY $750 a month (probably not including utilities or the ridiculous amount of bug spray you're going to inevitably have to purchase), but unless you have the money to take the railroad to work (*cough* unpaid internship or job that pays around minimum wage *cough*) which you probably won't, it's going to take you around an hour and fifteen minutes to get to downtown Manhattan, where MC probably works. And that's without traffic.

Which leads us to....

Myth/Trope #2: MC hops in a cab.

TRUTH: Um, nope. Taxis are for people who have money to throw around, and chances are, your MC does not. Initial taxi fare is $2.50- the same price as one subway ride or bus ride. That doesn't mean that you can get a taxi ride for that amount of money- unless you're going down the street. And then, there's the NYS tax of fifty cents that you have to pay. I'm not going to go into the details of how easy it is for a cab ride to end up costing you significantly more than $2.50, but you can click HERE to see the price details. And when you're in Manhattan, chances are, your taxi will probably end up going less than 6 miles an hour, due to the whole traffic thing.

Ah, traffic.
(KK, why don't you know that much about cabs? You may ask. Because I don't take them, my friend. That's why.)

Myth/Trope #3: MC is somehow surviving in NYC while working part time as Fill-In-The-Blank-Of-A-Not-Very-Well-Paying-Job, or interning somewhere prestigious (just because it's fancy doesn't mean they pay you), or is waiting to make it big and is jobless.

TRUTH: BRB, dying of laughter.
Exactly how are you supposed to afford your subway fares after paying rent with the money you're not making, MC? Not to mention any other things you might be doing that cost money, say, eating or going shopping or watching a movie or having a drink with your friends? I'm just going to stop that now.

Myth/Trope #4: Shopping on 5th Avenue

TRUTH: Sorry, I thought I was finished. Y'all. I have lived in NYC my entire life (minus the two years I lived abroad). I grew up here. And I have never, ever, ever, ever gone shopping on 5th Avenue.
It's not like there aren't stores other places.
It's also not like I can afford to shop in most of the places on 5th Avenue. So, there's that, too.

Myth/Trope #5: Central Park is the only green in Manhattan

TRUTH: Nope. It's the largest concentrated amount of greenery in Manhattan, but there are actually trees and parks in places that are not Central Park. Most streets in NYC will have trees, and there are a LOT of parks. HERE is a list.

Flushing Meadows Park (and the Unisphere)

Myth/Trope #6: Sex and The C-

Nope. Not true. Not possible.
Really. No. Enough people have done the math that I don't have to. Just, no.

Does NYC food really cost more? Yup. Are there really rats in the subways? Indeed. You don't always see them, though. Are there really that many food carts? Absolutely. Does everyone sound like a 'New Yawka'? No, but I know people who do. Are we all hideously mean and rude? No. Are we all filthy rich? LOL, my friend. Everyone gets mugged in NYC. Um, no. All guys in NYC are hot. Sorry, not true. We all live like they do on Gossip Girl. HA. Coffee shops are always quiet and you can totally get stuff done! *glares at the annoying guy lecturing his friend on politics* Not always. NYC is the greatest city in the world. I haven't the slightest clue- I haven't been to all other cities to be able to make a sound decision. But it's kind of cool.

So, lovely writer, who still wants to write a book set in NYC. Please. Go ahead. Write a book that's set here in the grand city of New York. It's always fun to read books that take place in a city I know so well. There is something magical about New York, and the possibilities here are endless. There are a lot of secrets of NYC, but there are a lot of us who are more than happy to answer questions for you.

But before you write- please do your homework. It would make us all so incredibly happy. We'd even buy you a hot dog and a cronut.


(PS: On behalf of everyone who lives in New York State but not New York City: THEY EXIST, YOU GUYS. They do. Just because someone says they're from New York, it doesn't mean they're from NYC. And just because someone says they're from NYC, it doesn't mean they live in Manhattan.

Okay. I'm done now.)


  1. This article was so affirming. I am currently writing a novel with a character who has moved from the Midwest to NYC. She sleeps on a pull out couch (very small apt.), she walks everywhere and eats vendor cart food (stretching her $), feel out of place in 5th Ave. shops, and finally ends up living upstate, which feels a lot more like home to her. I lived upstate for a year and was working from memory, so glad I got it right. Thanks for the article! I needed this.

  2. I love this. I've never lived there, but my brother does and I've visited an average of once a year since I was 12 years old. A lot of years. Even I don't think I am qualified to write about New York unless my character is visiting NY.

  3. Ahahahaha! This is brilliant. =P

    I could go on all day about what it's really like to live in the West, specifically Arizona (no, not all the towns are dinky, no, not everyone is a hick, no, not all cowboys are cute, no, Arizona doesn't stop at the Phoenix city limits, yes, we really do get snow in the Northern parts of the state--have you *heard* of Flagstaff?) but I won't, because that would take all day.

    Great post, KK!