"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.


Shannon O'Donnell said...

That's great advice, and my vacation is just around the corner! :-)

Kat Harris said...

I just got back from a trip west (if you consider the Black Hills west), and I used that time to find inspiration.

I think traveling is the best way to do that. Great post!

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

I love this post. It is so true -- sometimes as writers we focus on butt-in-chair time so much that we forget that experience is everything!

Thanks for the reminder to enjoy reality.


Linda Sandifer said...

My planned vacations are done for the summer and I did come back with a setting for another book -- a place I wouldn't have thought of. But thanks to some brochures given to me by my daughter, whom I was able to visit while on vacation, I now have the perfect place for that particular idea. So you just never know where things are going to come from that you can use later.