Friday, January 6, 2012

What Inspires a Writer?

One of the first questions many new writers ask their fellow authors is, "Where do you get your ideas?"

A better question, I believe, is "Where do you find your inspiration?" Literally. What locations inspire you to write? I've noticed that while many top authors don't restrict themselves to any one location, others tend to set their stories in a limited set of locales. Think Kay Hooper and the South, the Carolinas, predominantly. Heather Graham's stories often find themselves in New Orleans, Florida or the Northeastern U.S.

Do authors choose locations over and over again because they're familiar, and it's always easier to write what you know? Or do they find particular settings inspiring, great generators of ideas and story lines? Or maybe a little of both?

It's odd, but though I love where I live in the Southern Rockies, I haven't been able to come up with a story using it as a setting, despite the area being hugely atmospheric. I love Florida, too, with its sugar sand beaches, thunderous rains, and wild green parrots nattering together in the palm trees. I'd love to have a cottage by the beach, an old one in the Florida cracker style where a Christmas tree decorated with shells and starfish makes sense. Yet, I'm not the least motivated to set a story set there. So far, Florida just doesn't fit the type of fiction I write.

Rather, I'm drawn to the Northwest, its dense forests and lonely islands, the urban rhythm of Seattle. Equally inspired by the Northern California coast with its rocky cliffs; the scents of San Francisco, sourdough at the wharf and wonton soup from Chinatown; or the memory of the ornamental pepper plant I once bought from a stall in Ghirardelli Square (it smelled of fog and earth and irresistible greenness).

Settings aren't stories, of course, especially in the romance genre. In fact, too much description often gets in the way of character and plot development. Still, I find the right setting to be a necessary jumping off spot when it comes to inspiring those characters, to use in figuring out who they are and where they're going.

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