Start With The Landscape


Vineyard growing in the Canadian wine region of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia

Let’s look at how a landscape can provide a starting point for a story or poem.

Think about a landscape you know well. Note that I said “landscape”, not setting: while modern living has made house cats of many of us, I want you to think about an outdoor location. Try to pick one rich emotional connotations–that might mean a landscape from your childhood, or one from your more recent memory that you associate with a significant event.

Make some notes on the nature of the landscape:  the flora and fauna, how it does or doesn’t change with the seasons, the weather patterns, what it smells like, how the air there feels on your skin, how the light looks at different times of day, the color palette, the textures of what you touch there.

Next, make some notes on your personal memories of that place: the events you associate with it, the people, the emotional connotations. What do you do in that landscape? What do you wear there? What do you eat? What’s different about being there than other places you spend your time? What do you love about it? What do you hate about it? What happened there? What didn’t happen, that could have or should have?

Now that you’ve roughed out what that landscape is like and what it means to you, think about what kind of story you could set there. If you took a classic story or one of your current projects and re-set it in that landscape, how would the story change? What kind of story is never set in this kind of landscape?

We’ve talked before about John Sayle’s idea of treating the setting like a character in the story. Look at all your notes and think of that landscape now as a character. What’s the dominant mood or moods of the landscape? How does it affect the people in it? What challenges does it present?

Time for the big question: what is a story that could ONLY be told in this landscape? Better yet, what is the story set here that only YOU can tell?

Poets–I know you’re used to using landscapes for inspiration; I hope some of the questions above may trigger new poetry ideas for you, too.

Let me know if you come up with anything interesting and what you do with your new ideas.

Photo credit: Kelowna Wine and Cuisine (CC BY 2.0)