"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Never Waste a Vacation

I'm often asked how I get ideas for stories. One way I come up with ideas is while traveling. Most people going on their summer vacations will think of nothing but how much fun and sun they can pack into a week or two before they have to return to life's daily grind. As a writer, every place I go tends to spark story ideas along with fictional characters. Some ideas have enough substance to develop into something strong enough for an entire book.

Every place becomes a potential book setting. Sometimes I go to a place with specific research for a specific book as my top priority. But regular vacations are never wasted either. Even if I don't have a book setting in mind for a particular vacation spot, I still seek out museums, bookstores, and tourist information centers where I can collect local history and tidbits that I might be able to use in some capacity in the future. And, if I never use it, the extra knowledge certainly won't do any harm.

Road trips are especially conducive to research. I like to travel across the states and see how the terrain changes as well as the people. I like to feel firsthand the heat, cold, the smells and sounds, the traffic or the emptiness, the gentleness or ferocity of the wind–or the total lack of a breeze in a stifling, muggy place. I enjoy taking pictures, sampling the local fare, observing the people and their customs and culture, listening to the way they talk, their accents, their unique way of interacting.

Writers have a natural curiosity about people and the human condition in general. If we didn't have this curiosity, I daresay we wouldn't be writers. I'm lucky to have a spouse whose degree is in history, so he fully enjoys searching out the history spots with me and going to museums where I can rummage through the remnants of lives long past and the stories they left behind just waiting to be told.

So don't waste a perfectly good opportunity. If you don't have a story or a setting before you set off on vacation this summer, keep your eyes and ears open and you might just conjure something fantastic by the time you get home.