Just like that, it’s officially autumn. Though, here in Texas at least, it seems like maybe someone forgot to invite Mother Nature. I’m a huge fall fanatic. In fact, I’ve had pumpkins out for weeks already, much to my husband’s bemusement.
But before I run headlong into Halloween, I wanted to take a minute to reflect on the summer—because I have to say, it was a good one. I got to do a little more travelling this summer than usual, seeing some new places for the first time and revisiting some beloved spots, too. As I looked back through photos and memories from my adventures, I started thinking about how all the interesting new things I’d seen and learned and experienced could factor into my writing in the coming seasons.
After all, as writers, we draw so much from our experiences, and the more we can drink in new ones, the better, right? The new people, new foods, new smells, and new sounds we encounter can all work their way into our writing, giving it new dimensions and twists and turns we might not have discovered otherwise.
Here are a few of the images and ideas I’ve stashed away as writing inspiration from this summer’s travels. I’d love to hear about yours, too!
Setting: White Sands National Monument
We kicked off the summer with a Southwest road trip—Matt and me and four of our friends piled into a rented Dodge Caravan and headed to Palo Duro Canyon, Taos, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, White Sands, and Cloudcroft on a marathon Texas/New Mexico loop. Needless to say, we saw a lot of incredible sights, from mountain to desert and everything in between.
But the most dramatic was White Sands National Monument in New Mexico—275 square miles of desert covered engulfed in sparkling white gypsum sand dunes. It’s nothing but hills and mountains of white sand as far as the eye can see, and as I looked out over the expanse, I couldn’t help but consider what a fantastic setting it would make for a postapocalyptic novel.
Character Development: Toddler Dialogue
We spent a weekend with some dear friends who live just outside of Seattle, and we got to hang out with their super cool kids—a nine-month-old and a two-and-a-half-year-old, both boys. Matt and I—and all our friends here in Austin for that matter—have only fur children, so experiences with real live kiddos are few and far between.
One of my favorite things about the weekend was learning their older son’s particular language. He’s still working on traditional English, but that doesn’t mean he can’t express himself, and once you start to get the hang of how his vocabulary works, it makes pretty good sense. For example, Eli is an adventure seeker, and from his experiences flying down slides and riding his little toddler bike down hills, he’s determined that anything fun is “wheee.” Pick out a book he likes? “Wheee.” Suggest a trip to the park? “Wheee.” Conversely, anything notfun is “no wheee.” A song he isn’t feeling? “No wheee.”An activity that sounds boring? “No wheee.” Horses are “neighs,” so logically, dragons are “roar neighs.” Dogs are “woo woos,” cats are “meows,” and he’s getting pretty good at bossing his little brother, “baby,” around.
I talk with authors a lot about writing unique dialogue for every character, but I hadn’t thought much about dialogue for characters who may still be learning to speak. I’ve filed away little Eli’s particular linguistic rules for future reference.
Conflict: A Different Kind of Burial Ground
My brother was headed to Boston for work at the end of the summer. I hadn’t been back since graduation, so I invited myself to tag along for a long weekend. We packed a lot into just about two days, but one of the highlights was a trolley ghost tour around town.
The most fascinating thing I learned wasn’t even about ghosts. It was the fact that, in the Victorian Era, when much of Boston’s North End was built, developers who were feeling too lazy to go all the way to the quarry for cement would often just head up the street to the cemetery instead, stealing gravestones to build foundations. I mean, sure, that’s got Gothic literature written all over it, but imagine how it would play out in a slice of life scenario, too: your protagonist has put in an offer on a home, her option period is coming to a close, and suddenly her inspector drops a bomb: When the listing said the home was built on a slab foundation, that wasn’t quite accurate. Where do you go from that unexpected twist?
Characters: Historical Reenactors
Boston is obviously a historical city, and in some parts of town it seems every third person is a historic reenactor. But when my brother and I were there, we saw a kind of reenactment neither of us had ever seen: an old-timey baseball game on Boston Common. These guys were wearing old-school uniforms, using old-school bats, and playing without gloves, just like you would’ve seen in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Looking at the field, you could almost convince yourself you’d travelled back a hundred years. And I started to wonder what these guys are like in everyday life. How do you get into this hobby? My brother (who took the photo below) is a baseball fanatic, and my husband’s a history buff, but they’re squarely on opposite sides of that Venn diagram. What would they look like if you smushed them together into one historic baseball fanatic?
I’ve written before about backing into character development by examining clothes and accessories, but what about unique hobbies? If all you know about someone to start is that they play old-timey baseball on the weekends, what do you build from there?
My summer was more adventure-filled than usual, and I was lucky to encounter so many cool new tidbits to file away for future writing endeavors. What have you discovered recently that might find its way into your next project?