A City’s Character: More Writing Inspiration from Travel

urban city aerialA while back, I talked about how to make the most of travel delays with the people-watching writing prompt, but even if there are no (or few) people around, you can still find plenty of useful inspiration in your travels by considering a city’s character.

Places are like people. They have a certain look, a certain feel. They have their quirks, their strengths, and their flaws. They can be welcoming, or they can be hostile. Whatever size or density, places have plenty to draw from as a writer.

Here are some aspects you might want to consider when using a place for inspiration:

  • Worldbuilding: style, layout, laws, business, crime, attractions, sounds, weather, wildlife, landscape, etc. Anything that exists in a real place can be used to make your imagined place feel real, to add interest, or even for humor.
  • Mood: Atmosphere is a powerful tool, and one of the best ways to learn to build atmosphere is to experience and observe a specific atmosphere and analyze how it is created. Or simply use imagery as inspiration.
  • Pacing: Different places go at different speeds. This is especially noticeable if you go somewhere that moves at the opposite tempo you’re used to. If you have the time to sit and watch the world go by (preferably with a nice cup of tea), you can see how those speeds ebb and flow throughout the day and even how different people have different speeds within that pacing. You could even pattern your story arc after the ebbs and flows of a town (wouldn’t that be an interesting project?).
  • Food: Cultural differences bring food differences – not only through what people eat but also through how people treat their food. Is it something grabbed on the run? Is it something eaten at the table in a leisurely manner? Is it scarce or plentiful? Even if you already use food for worldbuilding or writing inspiration, seeing new foods or new customs can give you fresh perspectives and ideas.
  • Personification: Or should I say, “reverse personification”? (No, I shouldn’t.) Writers often describe places as people (arrogant old women, young charmers, etc.), but you could just as easily reverse that to build a character inspired by a place. Like the dryad that takes on characteristics of her tree, you could build a character who embodies the spirit of a place.
  • Structural Opportunities: Ok, this might seem a little weird at first glance (there’s probably a better word for it), but bear with me. What I’m talking about is the layout of traffic flow and living spaces, both on a large and small scale. How the city is laid out in relation to the landscape, how streets meet each other, how green space or exterior space is tied in, and even where windows are (or aren’t).
    1. These are all things you might think of with worldbuilding, but they can also be very useful for plotting. Like looking at a building and realizing how easy it would be to walk from one to the other. Or like the fact that only locals know that you have to take the highway exit that says “west” to go east… (true story).

There are more options (always). And if you’ve thought about it at all, you’ve already realized that 1. these “aspects” are all things you can apply to where you live (no travel required) and 2. a lot of them are applying other writing prompts to a different location…

You caught me.

Seriously, though, this prompt isn’t about an idea you can only use when you travel. There’s no such thing! It’s more about remembering to be observant and think about this stuff when you have the opportunity to see things you don’t get to see every day. That’s the point of travel, right? You get to experience a strange mix of familiar and different.

That’s a great mix for writing inspiration – but only if you look.

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