8/12/12

3 Starting Points for Writing Ideas

I am currently in Dawson Creek B.C. where my in-laws live and close to where one of my brothers and his wife lives. The interesting thing about travelling, no matter the reason (work, visits, vacation, emergency) is that you can always find fresh ideas in the experience for your writing.

Granted, there are stories that have come to me in my hometown that I still haven't taken advantage of, but the interesting thing is that these ideas that come about from travel are ones I wouldn't have had in my hometown.

Here are a few of the ways I'm inspired by a new location, and given story ideas:

3. Geographical

When I look at the geography of a place, I wonder-what stories is it hiding? What unique landmarks are around that would have influenced culture and development, infrastructure and business? I visited Winnipeg for the first time when I was 15 years old and I was struck by how similar things were between it and my then-hometown of Prince George. Both locations straddle the crossing of two rivers. Both local culture and First Nations culture is influenced by this geographical feature. Because many cultures view the meeting of two rivers as supremely significant it inspired in me a short story about the water sprites of rivers, how they behave and what their duties would be. When I went home, I found the conflict of the story-what happens when the Water sprites are threatened by something that dwells on land, particularly (and very predominant in Prince George) the mills in the lumber and pulp businesses?

2. Seasonal

In what ways do the seasons of the locations you're visiting differ than the location you're from. Is it rainy in the winter in lieu of snowy? What would happen if the culture your are visiting experienced a season from where you live? Could they survive?

I am a huge fan of speculative future-based Science Fiction. I love the Armageddon, Post-Apocalyptic and Plague Ridden Land stories that can come about from travel. Last March I was in Hawaii. I thought to myself. What if post-nuclear war left the world with atmospheric pollution that launched earth into a tame iced-age? The one that would cause Hawaii to get snow regularly? What would this pacific island, separated from the rest of the continents, do when its biggest industry is tourism and all of its tourists are dead?

1. Local or Ancient Cultures

I grew up in a couple of small communities since my father's work had us move around a lot. One of the unchanging things about these communities was the high population of First Nation peoples. I was exposed to many cultures: Nisga'a, Tsimshian, Haida, Carrier, and more. The one thing that all of them taught me is that a story of a people is sacred.

I paid attention to the early stories of the Raven, the Great Spirit and the Mother and Baby Bear. I was in awe as if I was hearing a homily at my Catholic church.

Too often I've gone on a tour of a location heard the most interesting stories and overheard someone, disrespectful in the extreme, say something like "Yeah yeah, get on with it. How high is the mountain..." and so forth. They disregard the stories of culture and spirit that developed a people. These stories are perfect jumping off points because they've got no clear-cut answers.

The following is a story that I heard from a Nisga'a elder while I was visiting the New Aiyansh Village:

"One day, in the Old Village of Aiyansh, two boys went to the river. They were supposed to be helping fish with the rest of the youths their age, but instead they went off to amuse themselves.

They came upon a stream with clear blue water and found a fish in a pool resting. Both boys fetched this fish and cut it open. They thought is was amusing when they put mud and sticks in the fish's back and forced it to swim upstream.

The fish was not just an animal but held the spirit of an elder, one of their own community. The spirit was suffering and was tormented by the boys before he died.

In response to this abuse, the Great Spirit was very mad and he sent down the wrath of a volcano upon the people of the Nass Valley. Old Aiyansh was destroyed and many people had to flee without time to gather their belongings.

This story is told so that not only will boys be warned to heed their elders, but also as a reminder that elders must educate their children or else the actions of a few can lead to hardship for the many."

The elder who told me this story got me thinking about not only the message of the story but also about the daily life these boys lived in. To this day I wonder what the events of that single day, the volcano eruption in the Nass Valley, over 300 years ago, would have been like. What would have each person gone through and how was it a different event than perhaps the volcano eruption in Pompei two thousand years ago?


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