It is freezing cold here today. But hey, we survived the polar vortex! The polar vortex totally played with my mind. The other day the temperature reached the mid-teens and I thought gleefully for a moment that it was so warm I didn’t need a jacket.
During days like today, I like to think of happier, sunnier times, like last autumn when I began visiting cemeteries. I’d come up with the germ of an idea for a novel that heavily featured cemeteries. The problem? I never went to cemeteries. Chalk it up to a typical fear of death and a lingering childhood aversion to walking on the dead.
I thought I’d be able to gloss over the setting at first and dive into the characters. My plan was to rustle up a rough draft and fill in cemetery details later. When I sat down to write, however, I found I couldn’t get a handle on anything – characters, setting or plot. So, I hit the road.
True confession – whenever I’m stuck on the page, I look for distraction. Rather than surrendering to Netflix, I visited a cemetery and congratulated myself on finding a distraction that I could write off as work.
Several details stand out from my first visit. The humidity, the towering pines, he dark tangle of forest beyond the stones. A spider scurrying over gray marble and a cannon inexplicably placed in the middle of the grounds. (Were they worried a rival cemetery would attack?) I got burrs on my jeans and when I got home, I felt the urge to wash cemetery dirt off my feet. I noticed that many of the graves were decorated with flowers, statues and even a few wind chimes.
Suddenly I had the opposite problem when I sat down to write again – I had too many details that I wanted to cram into the novel. But I also had a sense of setting and how my characters would interact in that setting. Score.
Barrier to the page: Can’t get a handle on the setting?
Solution: Stop streaming House of Cards on Netflix and immerse yourself in the closest thing to your setting that you can find.
(We’ll talk about how to immerse yourself in hard-to-visit and/or imaginary settings in an upcoming post.)
Discussion: If you’re a writer, where do you find inspiration for developing your settings? If you’re a reader, what makes a setting memorable for you?