Keeping on the theme of inspiration for NaNoWriMo, just like Dorothy states in the The Wizard of Oz, very often, “There’s no place like home.” If you’re trying to come up with an idea or a setting for your novel, sometimes you need to look no further than your own backyard, or neighborhood, or town. The most intriguing and captivating stories can be ones crafted from places and things the writer already knows. Why are these stories so captivating to readers? Because the writer is able to imbue them with details they have personal knowledge of and those details are what makes the stories pop. Yes, the old adage, “Write what you know,” is trite, but so very true.
What’s in my backyard? I live in the far northwest suburbs of Chicago, out in the cornfields. Within a couple of miles of my home is what is billed as “The World’s Largest Corn Maze” (check out RichardsonAdventureFarm.com). When I started trolling for ideas for heartbeats, Book #1 in the DeLuca Family Series, I thought it might be fun to make my female protagonist someone who grew up on a nearby farm, then went off to the university to become a doctor, and later joined a prestigious practice in Chicago. I knew I wanted to write suspense, so I thought: What if my all grown up, sophisticated protagonist has claustrophobia issues stemming from a time when she got lost in the cornfield when she was playing hide and seek when she was young? How interesting would it be if, just as she is becoming a rising star in her profession, her one-time college roommate is murdered in her Chicago apartment, and at some point in the novel, my protagonist must return home and face her fears of being lost in the corn in order to save herself and her young daughter? I also thought it would be interesting to juxtapose the two settings of the seemingly idyllic farm country and Chicago’s busy streets, both of which I have first-hand knowledge of. And there you have it; that corn maze was the spark that ignited my imagination and allowed the storyline to take off.
In a similar vein, fellow romantic suspense author Tracie Ingersoll Loy, (http://www.tracieloy.com) decided to set her Hartz Island Series (Slip Into the Night, Deep Into the Night) in the islands of the Pacific Northwest, not only because of the beauty of the area, but because she had personal knowledge of the islands. As Loy explains, “I felt comfortable using the islands as a setting because that was my backyard. My aunt and uncle ran an oyster farm there and I spent summers exploring the islands with my cousins from the time I was a small child, through my teenage years, and into adulthood.” Because of her experiences, Loy felt she could bring an authenticity to the stories that someone else might not be able to do. As her characters go about solving the mysteries of the fictitious Hartz island, Loy gives us details of what it’s like to take cover behind a madrono tree while watching kayakers come ashore in the middle of the night, or traveling on the car ferry, the only way on and off the island, or the camaraderie of the island’s inhabitants as they sip their morning coffee at the local café and discuss the body parts that are washing up on the otherwise tranquil beaches.
For cozy mystery writer Caryl Dierksen, (Teaching Mysteries 101), the choice for the setting for her first novel was also easy. An English teacher for over thirty years, she knew the ins and outs of the high school setting, the different personalities of the teachers and administrators which made every day at the school a new adventure, and a few little secrets of her building which she thought might be fun to use as a template for the setting of her book as she wrapped the mystery around it. And that’s the key: the high school she worked at was just a template, the personalities starting points, from which the ideas began sparking and her imagination took off, allowing her to create a truly fictitious novel but steeped in believable detail.
So, as you think of starting a novel, look around you, at what you see every day and what perhaps you take for granted, but look at it with a new creative eye. Your own perceptions and knowledge of your surroundings will allow you to bring it to life in a unique way that will bring authenticity to your story. That authenticity will carry your readers right along with you as you unfold the story for them, whether it be a mystery/suspense novel, romance, fantasy, or whatever, because, for inspiration for your story ideas or settings, very often, “There’s no place like home.”
Now click your heels together three times and start writing!
Until next time,