This article first appeared at the Writers At Play blog, January 14, 2009.
I’m probably dating myself here, but do you remember watching “Happy Days” and hearing about Inspiration Point? Back when Ron Howard still had hair, he played Richie Cunningham, middle child of the Cunninghams from the slice of life of 1950s Americana that aired 1974-1984. Inspiration Point was the middle of nowhere place teens went to make-out, but I always think of the title when I’m somewhere that inspires my writing. (And you thought I was going to talk about making out?)
Last night I attended a black tie event hosted at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. We were in the Hall of Architecture, which along with the rest of the museum offers over 140 plaster casts of architectural masterpieces from the around the world. For a few hours I was transported to the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus in Greece, of which the Hall itself is a replication. I was also surrounded by Apollo Belvedere, the Venus de Milo, the Nike of Samothrace, the famous discus thrower by Myron, and the Gothic masterpieces Florence Baptistry doors.
Talk about fuel for the imagination. As a writer I’m always on the hunt for new and interesting settings for my stories. As a reader I’m always interested in experiencing the past or the future through a great book. World-building, either past or future, is always one of the most fun parts of a story for me. Right now, so close to the event, I can’t decide whether I want to use the night’s setting in a contemporary story or a futuristic one. Should my heroine attend a similar party in a similar venue, or should the venue take place in on another planet?
Setting grounds a story and I find I’m drawn to stories that portray a vivid physical center in any time period. Case in (inspiration) point, not too long ago I glommed onto Tara Janzen’s Crazy series of books, all set on Denver’s Steel Street, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series set in Trenton, NJ, and Sandra McDonald’s Science Fiction THE OUTBACK STARS set on the T.S.S. Yangtze. All three have very distinct settings.
If you’re a writer, how does setting affect your writing? If you’re a reader, what novels’ settings most powerfully affected you? What are your favorite settings that you can read about over and over again? What settings are your Inspiration Point?