Now that summer is in full swing, there are more chances to get outside. This is terrific for us writers because we spend a lot of time sitting. (Most writers, including myself, take great pride in their butt-in-chair self-discipline, which is good because that’s what gets the job done). But sitting for long periods of time isn’t always good. It’s healthier – and more fun – to get up and get out every now and then. But there’s another reason that extra chances to get outside are a plus for writers – increased opportunities for site visits.
As writers of the fantastical and the speculative, site visits can provide us with accurate, real world information on a particular location that we may want to use in our story. This is great for writers who set their stories in places that actually exist in the real world. But even if you don’t, like me, the site visit can be a wonderful jumping off point for building your own setting. Sometimes, when I visit a place, I find it so interesting that I just know it’s going to end up as the basis for a future setting. For fun, I thought I’d share two of my favorite inspirational places with you today.
Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
I write a genre-bending fantasy series featuring 21 year-old post grad magic user, Noon Onyx. In Noon’s world there are two types of magic: waning magic, which is dark, destructive, and deadly, and waxing magic, which is soft, nurturing, and creative. Usually men are born with waning magic and women with waxing magic. But due to a birth mix up, Noon was born with waning magic. In the beginning, it makes Noon feel very uncomfortable.
The idea behind waning and waxing magic was born from my love of nature. And one of my favorite places to visit when I need a “garden fix” is Longwood Gardens. It is an amazing place – so full of life!
Many things contributed to the creation of Noon’s character, but one of them was the horrifying idea of not being able to walk through a place like Longwood Gardens without killing everything. (What if your presence in a garden had the potential to blacken everything and turn it to dust?) I even managed to find a few fanged creatures there: a dragon, a snake, and a gargoyle. In short, one visit to this amazing place yielded a treasure trove of inspiration for future stories. Interested in reading more about Longwood Gardens? Check out a longer post I wrote about it last spring HERE.
St. John’s Episcopal Church Ruins in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia
In my second novel, Fiery Edge of Steel, there is an old crumbling structure called the Stone Pointe keep, which serves as a backdrop for some of the novel’s biggest scenes. In addition to my own imagination, the structure had a few real world inspirational sources. One of them was the crumbling ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church ruins in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. My family and I traveled there last spring break and stayed in a cabin off of the Appalachian Trail. It was a wonderful
The St. John’s Episcopal Church ruins are west of Arsenal Square, on the hill to the north of Shenandoah Street, past St. Peter’s Church. There’s something about stone ruins that always fascinates me. Maybe it’s the combination of durability and ephemerality. Stone ruins last for generations and yet, they are mere skeletons of their former fleshed out selves. They are concrete evidence that nothing lasts forever.
Visitors must use their imaginations to bring ruins back to life. And, as writers, we can take those ruins – that skeleton – and turn it into anything we want. In our imaginations, the remains of what once was are like the monster’s body in Frankenstein beforeit was brought to life. And our inanimate setting “monsters” can be beautiful, frightening, soothing, full of tension, or whatever else we need them to be.
Interested in reading more about Harper’s Ferry? Check out a longer post I wrote about it last spring HERE.
Final Things to Keep in Mind
The most important things to keep in mind on site visits/day trips are two of the most basic building blocks of good writing: (1) USE YOUR IMAGINATION. Simple, right? We’re all writers so we’re used to using ours. But even so, I always try to push myself to consider how the places I visit might serve as inspiration in some new and different way. I use day trips as imagination sparks or seeds.
(2) DON’T FORGET THE FIVE SENSES AND MORE. Since great description is a part of great writing, actually going somewhere and experiencing it for yourself is the best way to take note of the location’s effect on your five senses. But don’t stop there. Pay attention to the place’s effect on you, which is more than just sensory input. Everything about the place – from its sight, sound, smell, taste, and feel, to its mood, vibe, and energy level, to the way other people interact with it, its history and its possible future – impacts how a place affects someone. While I don’t think places are alive, they do have personalities. And the better you can use the unique characteristics of a place to build some of your own settings, the stronger your stories will be.
So how about you? Do you use site visits or day trips to build your own settings? Where have you been that’s been interesting enough to use as the basis for a setting? Are you currently stumped on some aspect of setting design? Please feel free to share any thoughts, comments, questions, or advice for others regarding sf/f settings and/or real world site visits. Thank you, Nancy, and everyone else at FF&P for inviting me here today to guest blog!
When traveling into the unknown, sometimes the biggest danger is the one you bring with you…Lucifer and his army triumphed at Armageddon, leaving humans and demons living in uncertain peace based on sacrifice and strict laws. It is up to those with mixed demon and human blood, the Host, to prevent society from falling into anarchy.
Noon Onyx is the first female Host in memory to wield the destructive waning magic that is used to maintain order among the demons. Her unique abilities, paired with a lack of control and reluctance to kill, have branded her as an outsider from her peers. Only her powerful lover, Ari Carmine, and a roguish and mysterious Angel, Rafe Sinclair, support her unconventional ways.
When Noon is shipped off to a remote outpost to investigate several unusual disappearances, a task which will most likely involve trying and killing the patron demon of that area, it seems Luck is not on her side. But when the outpost settlers claim that an ancient and evil foe has stepped out of legend to commit the crimes, Noon realizes that she could be facing something much worse than she ever imagined…
More about Jill
Jill Archer is the author of the Noon Onyx series, genre-bending fantasy novels from Penguin/Ace. DARK LIGHT OF DAY and FIERY EDGE OF STEEL are available now. WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE will be the third book in the series.
CONTACT JILL ARCHER: