Chances are there is a little of all of these behind the desire to write a story. Or at least it’s that way for me. But if I had to boil it down to one thing that acts as a catalyst for the stories I create it would be the setting.
By setting I mean the locations in which the story takes place: Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings, Rome in The Da Vinci Code, New York in The Great Gatsby. For me, the interplay between the events and the location of a tale is one of the most powerful drivers of narrative and realism within a novel.
I first came to love the use of setting when I was working as a high school english teacher during my 20s. The class and I were studying Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. The time and place, isolation and references to the landscape drew us into the world of the play and made the events feel as though they were unfolding before us.
I started to actively notice the locations of the novels I read, and movies I watched. And more and more I came to see how important the setting really is. Just look at the title of Sex and the City, and the uproar when they held the movie premier in London and not New York.
More than this however, I came to see how much different places I visited in my own life impacted my experience. I have loved to travel since I was a child. At the young age of six I remember watching the cargo docks pass under the car as my dad drove us into Melbourne over the Westgate Bridge. It filled me with a sense of awe and wonder, the shear size and scope of the waterway, the enormous cranes and cargo ships lit up for the evening, twinkling against the dark canals below. Now as an adult every new place I go to leaves me with a different vibe: the largess of London, the age of Rome, the romance of Paris (to name some stereotypes as an examples).
But what I gravitate to more are the smaller places. Towns built of stone in deep valleys, fishing villages on rugged coasts, windswept glaciers, cottages surrounded by purple lavender, tropical beaches that smell of rotting fruit and garbage. These are the places that activate my writing brain.
So its no surprise that the idea for my first novel, Widow’s Lace, came to me as I travelled along the Finniss River in South Australia. A tributary river of the Lower Lakes, the Finniss is a small, reed lined river that winds it’s way inland from the Murray River. The quiet of the Finniss; only the sound of the reeds rustling, insects humming and the occasional caw of a river bird, set me to musing about living alone on her banks. This became the catalyst for Widow’s Lace.
I experienced a similar moment of inspiration when travelling in south Devon last autumn. It was late in the season and the smaller towns were closing up for the winter. Summer houses along the beach were boarded closed, cafes only open for lunch, yet the sun still shone bright and clear on the blue waters of the bay and the rolling green hills of the surrounding farms. The idea is still percolating, but I am nearly ready to start a formal outline of the story.
Once a story comes to me the idea of writing is exciting. I feel an energy in my arms and fingers and I want to start typing. So I do. The process isn’t all smooth and dreamy, the act of crafting a novel requires much more structure, grit and focus. The vibe of a location may get me started, but it is dedication that sits me down day in day out to wrestle with my ideas and bring them to life.
Locations, cities, towns, beaches, rivers, forests, paths, staircases, buildings, stadiums, parks, squares: these are my catalysts, at least so far.
I’d love to hear yours. What inspires you to write, sparks your imagination and ideas?
Let me know!