Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Setting as Character

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about where my stories take place.

I've written about small farms and mountain communities in Idaho. I have a cozy set in a fictional coastal California town. Mostly, I like writing about places that touch me.  Places that call to me.

My cozy started with a picture of a run down, boarded up house, perched on the edge of a charming tourist town.  I shot a picture of the house, and the story just kept calling to me.  I imagined the town fathers trying to buy that house for years, probably to bull doze the house and build something new.  Something pretty.  But the owner won't sell.  Why? Because she raised her child in that house, the child that didn't come home from Vietnam.  She lost her husband in that house, his life slipping away while she slept next to him, unaware.  She wants to die in that house.

And besides, she likes making the Mayor see red.

All from a picture.

Last month I took a walk back in time over the Mississippi river.  The Chain of Rocks bridge once was a thriving crossroads from Missouri to Illinois.  But time and a new, improved freeway system, made the bridge unusable. Luck and lack of funds kept it intact until the trail system was able to re-purpose the bridge into a wonderful walking path.

As I walked over the water, I realized two things.  Yes, I am afraid of heights.  My stomach flip flopped any time I got near the edge.  And the second, this would be an awesome place for a murder to take place.  Maybe one of those politicians who fought the use of tax payer money to support the refurbishing. And maybe...

Settings, they get my wheels turning.

How about you?  What causes you to start imagining a new book? Is it place, character, or plot?


17 comments:

Morgan Mandel said...

Beautiful pictures. Even if you've been somewhere you'd like to use as a setting in a book, it helps if you have photos to refer to, especially if you're a bit old like me.

Morgan Mandel

Kristina Knight said...

Like you, just about anything can start a book idea - an overheard conversation, a road sign, a bridge like the Chain of Rocks.. Great post - and good luck with your books!

Lynn Cahoon said...

Thanks Morgan - those are my own pictures, something I love to do but didn't think I was very good at. I love the ironwork sculpture.

And they just seem to invite you to walk down the path...

Lynn Cahoon said...

Hi Kristi! I learned early on, I'm a visual learner. My son would spell out a word he didn't understand and I had to either write it down, or see the page. Same with my writing.

Patricia Gligor said...

Lynn,
I laughed when I read "this would be an awesome place for a murder to take place." I laughed because I've said (or thought) the same thing so many times!
Ideas for a story or a character come from everywhere. I never know when something will strike me as story material. That's one of my favorite things about being a writer.

Carol Kilgore said...

Anything at all can start me imagining a new book. Usually it's a character, a place, or a what-if premise. Plot is nearly always the last thing to come. I love these photos. Old bridges are fascinating.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Great post. And yes, being somewhere and seeing something that suggests a devious event could take place does indeed spur on the imagination.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I've written about a number of places we've visited during our travels, but the place that I'm most familiar with is the mountaintop where our small retirement ranch is located. My recent release, Gray Wolf Mountain, is set here in the Laramie Mountains as is my latest children's book, Ghost of Crimson Dawn.

Megan Kelly said...

Totally relate to yr walk across the Chain of Rocks, on both the "what if" and the flip flopping stomach. It's a cool bridge.
Settings are key to building a feeling of threat, and aged things give ppl the creeps anyway. The structure's history "lives" with them, for good or bad. And writers carry "what if" with them, whether walking across a bridge or a deserted college campus at night, I can imagine someone behind me, or around the corner, or...
Great post. Cool pix.

Lynn Cahoon said...

Patricia - Kindred souls... My husbands always looking at me strange when I say that. I think he's worried he might be the body. LOL

Lynn Cahoon said...

Hi Carol! It was so hard not to run home and start this story after my musing walk. But right now, I'll keep it on my wanna do list...

Lynn Cahoon said...

Hi Marilyn - I worry sometimes that I'm like the kid in The 6th Sense - I see murder everywhere. But I'm sure it's just my muse being fanciful.

Lynn Cahoon said...

Jean - I love Wyoming. So fun to write about your home.

Lynn Cahoon said...

Seriously Megan, I would have told you if the guy with the ax was getting close.

Great time talking books last night. Thanks.

Kathleen Kaska said...

Those special places seem to call out to us. All we have to do is listen.
Beautiful photos, Lynn. I understand that fear of heights. I have it, too and so does my protagonist.

Lynn Cahoon said...

Kathleen - at first, I wasn't sure I could do the walk, then I just kept going and my butterflies calmed down. Unless I got too close to the edge.

sandy gardner said...

hi,
It's definitely a character (or two...) that gives me an idea for a mystery novel. When I was lying on the living room sofa not feeling well, I had the sense of a mother standing over me. That was the beginning of my "Mother, Murder and Me" first book in a series-- a recently dead elderly mother who comes back to help her
daughter out of trouble....
Sandy Gardner
sgardner2@hvc.rr.com