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Hi teachers.

A man sits on a chair by the window, gazing out at the city before him. Quiet. Night-lit. Beautiful.

(It's on the 20th floor.)

This is the first lines of a story I'm writing, so I don't feel I can just write "gazing out at the city" Period. As the city hasn't been introduced yet.

I was told that "before him" is very formal. Could I just say "in front of him" instead? Or maybe "below him" is better? But it's a big city with lots of tall buildings, so I don't know if that would work.

I could also just write "gazing out at a big city" instead.

What do you like best?

Thank you.

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anonymousThis is the first lines of a story I'm writing, so I don't feel I can just write "gazing out at the city" Period. As the city hasn't been introduced yet.

There is only one possible city in this context, unless the man is on the 20th level of a space station in orbit. From that position, the man would be looking at one or more cities on earth as the ship passes overhead.


"The city" is obviously introduced by his position on the 20th floor of some high-rise.

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anonymousThis is the first lines of a story I'm writing, so I don't feel I can just write "gazing out at the city" Period. As the city hasn't been introduced yet.

It's not just "a city". It's the city before him. When you have a restrictive modifier (before him), you need "the". Otherwise, you get "a city before him", which implies, albeit weakly, "one of the cities before him" — certainly not what you mean.

CJ

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anonymousThis is the first lines of a story I'm writing, so I don't feel I can just write "gazing out at the city" Period. As the city hasn't been introduced yet.

But you can. "The city" sets up mystery right from the start. He knows what city, and we expect to find out. I would use that. But if you feel you need more, then by all means, write more. A bare adverb, be it "below", "before" or "in front of", weakens the prose. And you are right—every other building would have to be shorter than his window for "below".

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