It’s true that most writing is done by a person whose bottom is sitting in a chair, whose fingers are striking the keys, and not outside ambling through nature enjoying summer’s bounty. We find sources of inspiration in different areas: love, anger, hate or beauty. I tend to get my creative hat on in the woods, or on the sea, or in a busy Italian cafe before a perfect pizza. Places connect me to stories and places are often the part of the story that stays with me, after I have reluctantly closed the book or watched the credits scroll. Setting is a part of the writing craft that gets at best second or third billing, but is crucial in creating a world that we enter, and then hate to leave.
I watched the Lord of the Rings (part one) about nine million times, because after a long day, when I just wanted to relax and be transported to a magical fictive dream world, I craved the Shire. I wanted a cold ale and a piece of cold chicken and pickles from a kind, if short, host. The Matrix wasn’t an all time favorite movie just because it had a sound Science Fiction premise and a strong female lead (not to mention Keanu Reeves), but it took me to another place. It was a rather green place, but that was special effects. I even enjoy going to the damp, dreary Pacific Northwest on a cold rainy night and reading about teenage vampire angst. Stephenie Meyers, in her description of Forks, takes me there. The fact is, that the setting of stories or movies or even poems often moves quietly behind the scenes, amid the dialog, and between
the characters dueling their love or solving their conflicts or whatever the writer has set out for them to do. Too often, setting goes unnoticed.
Josip Novakovich, in his better than average craft book, Fiction Writer’s Workshop, claims that setting has fallen out of fashion. He claims that plot and characterization have center stage, and he blames, in part, lack of exercise. He says that big writers used to be big walkers, and mentions Dickens, de Balzac, and Dostoyevski, who spent their days strolling about their cities gathering ideas for stories. I’ll even throw out another candidate for outdoor inspiration- Thereau and that little pond at Walden. Those guys all found stories in the places they walked. Perhaps the feet are more important to writing than we think.
So instead of sitting here another minute, I’m off to find my trail shoes and climb Mt. Rose. I’ll pass the waterfall where everyone turns around, climb up to the saddle, where this record year of rain has left a garish, almost obscene amount of wildflowers, then scramble up past the windy, barren tree line to the top. I’ll find the notebook and write my name, sit behind the rock wall and eat a snack. I’ll feel guilty that I have writing to do, and I’m up here at 10,000 feet feeling extremely alive. Then I’ll go home and think about something to write.
Vanessa Franking is currently a guest editor for The Splinter Generation. Vanessa received her B.S in Electrical Engineering from the University of Memphis, then headed west, returning only for family visits and BBQ. After a short career in the computer world, Vanessa returned to school. She is a student at Antioch pursuing her MFA in fiction.