Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Setting Inspiration

It's rather serendipitous that our suggested blog topic for this month is Descriptions and Settings. I just got back from escaping the cold and wet by spending ten days cruising the Caribbean soaking up rays and, not incidentally, some fabulous potential settings.

One of the reasons we chose this particular cruise was because it stopped at several islands we hadn't visited yet, along with one old favorite. Visiting new places really kick starts my imagination and this trip was no exception. I found myself thinking about my current writing project constantly -- not in the "oh, no, I should be writing!" way, but in the much better, "hey, I could use this in my story!" kind of way. I even found myself dreaming about the characters in new settings and that's a sure sign that something's going right.

Each island left its own unique impression. In Bequia, I felt like I was visiting the Caribbean as it might have been about ten to fifteen years ago, before cruising became such a huge business and all the mega-ships were so prevalent (our ship had about 290 passengers and 500 people total). Bequia was a sleepy little place, but that might have been because we were there on Sunday and it seemed that nearly everyone was either in church or going to church and most of the businesses were closed.

Dominica was beautiful and a great source of inspiration. The vast majority of Dominica is unspoiled tropical rain forest--an UNESCO World Heritage Site. We took an aerial tram tour of the rain forest that was one of the most incredible things I've ever experienced. Take a look at the first picture on the blog--that's the tram we rode (in the front seat, no less; our guide sat in the rear). The tram is a converted ski lift from Vancouver, B.C. that was installed about seven years ago. Minimal cutting of the rain forest was done during the installation. The tram is very nearly silent and when our guide would pause in his narration, all we could hear were the birds, the light breeze through the trees, and the river far below. It was like floating through the forest. Oh, and the picture of the suspension bridge? We walked across that as part of the tour. The bridge is about a person and a half wide.

On St. Kitts we took a ferry to the island of Nevis and toured an incredible private botanical garden. The garden grounds were beautiful, but my favorite parts were the water features. Sounds so simple--water feature--like something you'd put in your backyard. Hah! I walked down the steps from the upper garden, turned around, and was face-to-face with a two-story high waterfall wall that looked like it belonged in an Indiana Jones movie. Talk about getting the imagination going!

On St. Barths we wandered around the town of Gustavia. This is the island where the rich and famous come to play and the upscale (really upscale) duty free shops reflect that. We had fun looking at all the giat yachts and sailboats and imagining what life might be like on board them.

We visited a few other islands, but these were the ones that provided the most fodder for my imagination. I may never use the towns or places specifically as setting, but the bits and pieces, like the feeling of floating through the forest, or suddenly coming upon an ancient sculptured wall above a waterfall pool, or the giant wooden water pipe, or how it felt to walk across a narrow suspension bridge several hundred feet above the ground--those are the things that will make it into my writing at some point.

How about you? Do you prefer to research your settings in person? Or would you rather stay closer to home and get setting details through the internet and books? It isn't always practical or necessary to visit places in person before writing about them. Traveling, though, can stir your imagination in ways you never expected. Sometimes it's as simple a matter as seeing the sky on fire as the sun sets on the ocean.


Genene Valleau said...

Debbie, your trip sounds fabulous!

I prefer to research my settings by going there but, as you said, that's not always feasible. The islands you visited sound incredible, though the tram might not be for me and definitely not the suspension bridge. (Don't like high places and especially not swaying high places!)

So glad this cruise refreshed your excitement for your story.

And welcome back!

Paty Jager said...

Debbie what an awesome trip and inspiration! One of these days I'm going to talk my hubby into taking me to a rain forest and a Caribbean Island. But not by boat. I learned my lesson on the Alaska cruise- cruising isn't for us.

I love to visit where I write about but sometimes it isn't possible.

Sarah Raplee said...

Debbie, what amazing pictures of your wonderful trip! Travel stirs the juices for me, too. Even local travel can be inspiring.

I prefer to visit settings first hand as well.