No, I’m talking about really getting high in Vegas; like 23 stories high above the Strip.
Instead of looking up at the crazy, cacophony of a skyline and fighting crowds of gamblers, kids and hot babes on the ground, I spent three days in The Mandarin Oriental with its lobby on the 23rd floor. The place is as unique to the Vegas Strip as a showgirl sans make-up - it has no casino.
The elevator doors open onto a lobby glowing pink and blue and white as the huge windows filter the frenetic neon that blankets the streets below. A sculpture wall covered in golden, bulbous bullets undulated to silver and copper depending on where I stood. A choir sang classic Christmas songs in a nod to the season. When they fell silent, strains of Asian-inspired music filled every nook and cranny of this elegant place. I was a cloud walker; a Stratos dweller. * This was Zen. This was cool. This place was removed from the action, above the fray, a respite in an otherwise bizarre and confusing world of sight and sound. Standing in that lobby, I had an artistic epiphany.
I could not write about THE BIG PICTURE, THE AWESOME PLACE, THE APOCALYPTIC LANDSCAPE if I was down in the roil and boil of it. To write about an epic setting, I needed to see it through the point of view of individuals; characters who would be affected by and react to it.
I had a myriad of choices. On the streets below were kids celebrating 21st birthdays and drinking themselves into oblivion, newlyweds on a honeymoon or tying the knot with the blessing of Elvis’s reincarnation. There were middle aged couples reliving their youth or hoping to recoup their fortunes. There were homeless people and hucksters and men looking for love and a quick buck and women doing exactly the same thing. I could have chosen any one of them and written a million stories; I could not write one story about the place, Las Vegas. My imagination kicked into high gear only because my perspective changed.
Too often writers try to impress readers with the broad strokes of their brush when, in reality, success comes from the fine flourishes. Story is the key to an interesting read and story revolves around an individual in a place, not a place surrounding an individual. What would we make, after all, of Gone with the Wind if the Civil War were not seen through Scarlett’s eyes or World War II if we had not experienced it through the personal struggle of George the VI in The King’s Speech?
So, when I find myself drowning in a setting too big to tame or thoughts too full to organize, I’m going to get high, look down and identify whose story I’m telling. Then I will take that elevator back down to street level. I will follow that character through the landscape and let their story unfold instead of trying to siphon a story out of the setting. Or, maybe, I’ll just treat myself to another trip to Vegas, check in at the Mandarin Oriental, sit in the Sky Bar on the 23rd floor and let my imagination wander. That works, too.
* Trekkies! Think the original Star Trek episode 5818.4 where Kirk finds the Stratos dwellers at odds with the Troglytes; the elite live in luxury and peace while the rest of civilization toils below on the verge of revolution.