I'm not sure if this has been done before. In my story, the main character's wife takes the form of a town. The town represents how he feels towards his wife (mostly sad feelings and repulsion). It shouldn't be very obvious that the town represents his wife, but at the same time, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out that.

Any suggestions to accomplish this?


Summary (of the summary) of the story:

A young man wanders in a town trying to find a girl (after receiving a call from her), which represents his wife but from a "romantic past". The whole town represents his "actual wife" who produces him feelings of repulsion, frustration and sadness.


  1. Loneliness: The wife no longer spend time with him so there is no one in the town.
  2. Miscarriage: Her wife had a miscarriage so the rivers of the town are red.
  3. Well I thought about female elements that fit a dark environment: menstrual blood and long strings of hair.
  4. Infidelity: The wife has been going out with another man (I have no idea how to represent that in the town).

But I don't think adding that will make the reader realize that the town represents the wife.

I will like the reader feel that the town has some female attributes.

  • 2
    I don't know if the specific "wife <--> town" link has been done, nor where, but using the setting and environment as a reflection of certain characters is a time-honored technique (e.g. Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" takes this concept to its literal extreme). But I'd have difficulty making concrete suggestions for your story without A) knowing more about the wife, the protagonist, the town, and the plot, and B) hearing what you've already come up with yourself.
    – Standback
    Jul 6, 2011 at 13:03
  • @Standback I added some examples in the EDIT I'm not sure if they will work for my purpose.
    – wyc
    Jul 6, 2011 at 13:37
  • Check out Faulkner's "Rose For Emily." That's a really great example of a town as a character. wwnorton.com/college/english/litweb05/workshops/fiction/… Jul 7, 2011 at 12:13

2 Answers 2


It's not clear from your description what the intended genre of your story is, but I suspect that this will have a major impact on how you approach this. If the genre is fantasy or horror, then you can have the city embody your protag's wife in a much more literal or fantastic way than you could in other genres, which opens up interesting possibilities.

In fact, your description of the town's characteristics make me think of horror, which in turn makes me think of the video game classic Silent Hill 2. In this game, the protag has come to an isolated mountain town after the death of his wife of a long illness. But he finds the town mostly empty of people but filled with monsters and decay. The types of monsters he confronts, the few people that he meets, and the nightmarish, decaying locations that he has to visit all manifest elements of his experience with his wife's illness and death. The cumulative effect is extremely disturbing, and the symbolic content of the monsters and environment is actually more upsetting than the literal danger, as the monsters are relatively few and easy to kill by video game standards.

It sounds like you can do something very familiar, even if your story has a more mundane setting. The things that you mentioned above are a very good place to start. Some additional things you might add include the following:

  • Religious references, even if your character isn't religious. Anyone familiar with Western culture should be able to understand the significance of a defaced statue of the Virgin Mary, for example. This may present a good avenue for introducing the theme of infidelity.
  • Weather and environment. This doesn't have to mean "dark and gloomy" either---a bright, merciless sun can be used for horror or discomfort just as well as a dark alley.
  • Particular buildings with significance. If your character's wife has miscarried, for example perhaps he has to visit a hospital or an abandoned school.

One last thing is to note that your symbols shouldn't really be about the wife as she exists, but about your protagonists feelings about his wife. For example, don't try to think of ways to represent the wife's infidelity itself, but rather your protagonists fear of his wife's infidelity. The latter is a much darker, more powerful, and more versatile image.

  • Thanks, I was really into the idea of turning the town into a kind of "human presence," but I guess it makes more sense to follow your last suggestion. (By the way, I was also fan of SH2 and Chrono trigger. I don't have intentions to write horror, though).
    – wyc
    Jul 6, 2011 at 16:04

Exploring how we relate to a city, how the city represents the desires and feelings of the people that designed and built it, how we relate to various parts of the city, how the city affects mood and perception is probably uncommon. Even more uncommon is to relate that to a person, but I think it could be done.

Assuming that your story takes place within roughly the past 40 years - specifically at a time when graffiti and other forms of urban expression started to appear, you could relate the town to the wife through expressions of graffiti. For example, your character could wander the streets and come across some graffiti that expresses frustration with 'the system' and use that as a segue to thinking about his wife.

If your story is in the distant past during times of monarchy, you could have a king/prince/other noble-person build-out the town/city as his relationship with his wife changes. For example, when initially attracted to his to-be-wife, he has builders create a waterway that meanders through and caresses the town's features. Later, when the couple has kids, he could have builders create places that nurture family values like parks, statue gardens, boulevards, libraries, etc. When the relationship gets rocky, he could have his builders create jails, or demolish slums, or maybe build up an army (things that express frustration and try to compensate). You could relate these aspects of the town to the wife's physical appearance, personality traits, etc. Obviously, making the connection effective is critical.

  • I disagree that this is uncommon. Using place to represent a character's mood or relationships is a very common literary technique--not that this means that the OP shouldn't do it! Jul 6, 2011 at 15:34

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