Fall Weather as Writing Inspiration

Fall is the best time of year in Buckeye State. Cool nights, warms days, and little precipitation allows people to enjoy the fun and wonders of fall. So it was fairly easy for me to use fall weather as writing inspiration.

Harvest

Farmers in my county are in full harvest mode. Combines of all sizes are collecting the corn and soybean crops. If I wanted to write about that kind of harvest, I’d have to do research and interview farmers from my church. But one harvest I am familiar with is black walnuts.

Black walnut trees are plentiful on our property as well as all over the county. The trees drop their nuts, usually, the last week of September or the first week of October. Getting the meat out of a black walnut is a laborious process–the green husk must be removed and the black gunk (I tried to find a precise term for this stuff and couldn’t) between the husk and nut stains everything, but the hardest part, literally, is cracking the nut itself.

Black walnuts are much, much tougher than English walnuts. It took us years before we found an effective tool to break the shells without straining our muscles or dodging shell shrapnel as a less helpful nut cracker turned some nuts into mini bombs.

The whole process is ripe (pun intended) for a humorous story about a family tackling a black walnut harvest. Or it could be a family drama in which the harvest ties generations together.

Indian summer

We’re experiencing one right now in my county. Wikipedia states that Indian summer is a warm, dry period in October or November after a frost. The Old Farmer’s Almanac has a much more detailed definition. Either way, this kind of weather allows us to experience one last shot of summer before winter settles in.

That makes me think of using this weather phenomenon as a setting for a main character who gets one last chance to achieve something. I’m not the first writer to think of it. I found on Wikipedia that William Dean Howell’s wrote a novel in 1886 entitled Indian Summer about a man who falls in love in middle age.

Indian summer seems like the perfect backdrop for a reconciliation between friends, or relatives, or husband and wife. I could also use it for a character who gave up some passion that he loves, maybe painting, for a more traditional job and gets another chance to follow his dream. Any story about a loss and then an unexpected hope of recovery will work.

Blue Moon of Halloween

I hope those of you who celebrate Halloween got to experience the blue moon. It was a perfectly clear night at our house, and the full moonlight was magical. My husband and I took a walk into the woods under its silver glow. I’ve written before about how to use a full moon night as writing inspiration. What intrigues me was the fact that there hasn’t been a blue moon on Halloween since 1944.

What if in the waining days of World War II, the Nazis unleash some horrible evil force or entity that was only accessible on Halloween under a blue moon? A young soldier, who witnessed this act, has dedicated his life to fighitng it. Now that 2020 was arrived with another blue moon on Halloween, he has a chance to destroy the evil. But he’s in his nineties. He must assemble a team to help him. A group of Neo-Nazis could be defending the evil. I could even work in how the pandemic is hampering the good guys’ efforts.

What’s fall like where you live? How could you use fall weather as writing inspiration?

Cemeteries as Writing Inspiration

No, it’s not as morbid as it sounds. Since this month’s themes is mysteries, I wanted to feature a setting that works for that genre as well as many others. Don’t think cemeteries can work as writing inspiration for more than mystery and horror? Read on!

Walking a Cemetery

I’ve walked through cemeteries usually with two purposes in mind: to get a sense of the history of an area and to look for unusual names for characters. A large cemetery is also a quiet place to walk and plot not worry about traffic.

On my visits, I’ve noticed a very sad trend. If I spot a tombstone that stands out from the surrounding ones, regardless of how old the grave is, it usually honors someone who died young. That gets me to thinking. Who was this person? Why did he or she died so young, What happened to their family?

Those thoughts can run through the mind of my main character (MC). Perhaps a teenage boy has the job of mowing a cemetery. He notices an unusual tombstone and begins digging into the past to discover what he can about the person buried there.

If I write a parallel story about the person who died–maybe he’s a teen who lived around 1900–I would have a time-slip novel with complimentary storylines in two different time periods.

Family Connections

Twice, I’ve taken my kids to lay flowers on the graves of relatives from my mom’s side in Shinnston, West Virginia, during Memorial Day weekend. I’ve written about how important that experience is to me and for me to share with my kids. That can be the inspiration for my MC to connect to his family or to dive into family history.

We often run into relatives when we stop. Last time, it was my mom’s first cousin and her husband. A chance encounter like that can forge new family bonds for my MC. Or maybe bury the hatchet on a long-running family feud. Or the spouse of my MC learns more than he ever wanted to know about his wife’s more distant relations.

Any genre will do.

Any of the inspirations from above can be tweaked to apply to a romance or mystery. The teen researching the interesting headstone enlists the shy, smart girl in his class to help him. They discover the young person who died was the victim of an unsolved murder. And someone lets them know he wants it to remain unsolved.

I have a special fondness for mysteries featuring cold cases or buried family secrets or both. The skeleton in the closet may be a skeleton in a coffin. I like the idea of a cemetery being a symbol for long-buried secrets. Then the detective, whether amateur or professional, can finally bring about justice after so many years.

One thing I learned about cemeteries in my area is that if I want to know who is buried where, it’s not as simple as visiting “Find A Grave”. Churches used to maintain many of the smaller cemeteries and kept the records for them. During a cemetery walk, led by a librarian from our local library, she said the Baptist church that had started the cemetery we were visiting burned at some point, losing their records for the locations of the graves. She mentioned that three mausoleums were built into the hillside along the edge of the cemetery, but she couldn’t find out who was buried there.

The hillside was now thickly overgrown. On a later visit, I found all of them. I didn’t get to close because two of the mausoleums were open. I didn’t know if anyone was still buried in them. But those mausoleums sent my imaginations spinning.

What if the key to a mystery was finding the grave of a particular person? What if the records had been burned in a church fire? How would the detective find it?

Or what if on Halloween night, some teens dare each other to enter a mausoleum that one of them knows is open? What if they find a very recently killed body?

Writers, how would you use cemeteries as writing inspiration? Readers, can you think of a story that used a cemetery as something other than a setting in a horror story?

Unexpected Incidents as Writing Inspiration

All stories need tension. Throwing my main character (MC) into an unexpected incident propels him out of his comfort zone, creating tension. Unexpected incidents are also the building blocks for humor. Whether you write comedy or drama, see if the unexpected incidents below can act as inspiration for your writing.

Travel Incidents

Any mishap in travel plans can create tension, funny or dramatic. A traffic jam, getting lost, a missed flight, or a vehicle break down. I can use my experiences with unexpected travel incidents to root my story in reality.

Twice in my life I was stopped dead in a traffic jam for so long that I got out of my car. One was for an accident, and the other was for a small wildfire that firefighters were putting out beside the highway. During the wildfire, I had to go to the bathroom and went on a search. That motivation for a MC could lead her to meet sinister characters, witness a crime, or find herself in a comic predicament when she asks the owners of a RV if she can use their bathroom and overhears a family fight.

When I was seventeen, I drove home one night from a friend’s house where we’d been studying. I’d never been to her house in the country and turned onto the wrong road. When I tried to turn around, I got my car stuck. I had passed a few houses and walked back to them. One of the mailboxes had a name on it that was similar to the name of a senior at my high school. So I went up to that house and knocked. It turned out it was his home, and his family couldn’t have been nicer.

But what if my MC chose a house with an owner who wasn’t so friendly?

Expeditions

I’ve watched enough PBS shows with my Nature Nut to realize that sending my characters out on some kind of expedition is the perfect way to toss in unexpected incidents. It can be a scientific expedition, research trip for an artist or writer, or a mission trip. Andrew Klavan showed how a mission trip can go Horribly Wrong in his YA novel. If We Survive. You can read my review here.

The advantage of the expedition is that it gives characters a legitimate reason to venture into unfamiliar territory.

Warning: Idiot Plot

Whatever unexpected incident I decide to use, I need to watch out for the Idiot Plot. This is a plot twist that only works if the characters are idiots. I want my incident to be unexpected, not stupid. For more on the Idiot Plot, click here.

What unexpected incidents from your own life can provide inspiration for your writing?

The Sea as Writing Inspiration

This month’s “Writing in Time” post was going to be about the beach and the sea as writing inspiration. But I ran into a problem. The beach left me completely uninspired. It’s not as if I haven’t done enough research. My family and I have gone to the North Carolina coast to visit my in-laws for years now. But the beach is relaxing, a giant sandbox for people of any age to enjoy. I’ve discovered I need settings that add tension to my writing, and the beach doesn’t do it for me.

But the sea … since I was twelve and went sailing with my cousin and her husband on their sailboat in Chesapeake Bay, I’ve been in love with ships and the sea. The might and the mystery of the sea fires my imagination. Below is inspiration for using the sea in speculative fiction, mysteries, and adventures.

Speculative Fiction

I’ve only visited the beaches on the east coast of the U.S. where European settlers first arrived, leaving behind four hundred years of recorded history. That history infuses the area, making it perfect for a tale of time travel.

In North Carolina, my family and I stay at Emerald Isle, a barrier island near a maritime archaeology site. Experts believe they are excavating the ship Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s flagship. In a speculative story, an archaeologist finds a way to Blackbeard’s time—a portal or some item salvaged from the wreck. Blackbeard discovers the way and travels to our time. The archaeologist has to get Blackbeard back to the 18thcentury.

A monster story works so well in the sea because, unlike stories of lake monsters, the unexplored depths of the oceans gives a hint of reality to the idea of giant, undiscovered forms of sea life. A fantastic story based on some fact has always appealed to me. “The Foghorn”, a short story by Ray Bradbury, comes to mind.

Mysteries

The possibilities for this genre are nearly limitless. How many middle grade mysteries have centered around an old lighthouse or sunken treasure? Tons, but that doesn’t mean current authors can’t put a new spin on classic settings.

For adult stories, the episode “Shark Mountain” from the PBS show Nature inspired me. It featured Howard and Michele Hall, a couple who run Howard Hall Productions. They produce and direct underwater films. Michele is also an underwater photographer and logistics coordinator for their expeditions around the world as they travel for their films.

I would love to invent a couple like the Halls. In a foreign country, the couple record or photograph something dealing with a crime but don’t know it. Their boat is searched, a colleague is attacked. When the local police seem unconcerned or corrupt, the couple conduct their own investigation.

To give a mystery an eerie atmosphere, nothing beats a deserted boat. The crew of a fishing boat finds a deserted ship. They can bring it in to harbor and then mysterious events start occurring, like someone following the captain or the fishing boat is vandalized. Or after the crew finds that abandoned boat, another ship begins to chase them and it’s a battle of wits for the fishing crew to reach port safely. That storyline combines mystery and adventure, which leads me to my next genre …

Adventure

When a writer sets a story in nature, she can count on using that element for all kinds of plot twists and tension.

Two of my favorite nonfiction books are The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone and Dove, both by Robin Lee Graham. The first is a children’s books, stuffed with photos and the latter is for adults. Both recount the adventure of the author who became the youngest person to solo around the world starting when he was sixteen in 1965 and ending in 1970.

Those books alone provide a host of story elements from falling into the sea while working on the ship, to losing the main mast, to experiencing star-spangled nights on a still sea.

I could incorporate or adapt those real world experiences into a story involving a teen trying to sail around the world in the 21stcentury.

For more ideas about how to use August as writing inspiration, click on my 2019 post and my 2018 post.

How can you use the beach and the sea as writing inspiration?

Summer Weather as Writing Inspiration

Summer weather with its high temperatures, higher humidity, and long days of full sun has settled into the Buckeye State, so my post for July’s Writing in Time is summer weather as writing inspiration.

Heat + Humidity = Crime

Most people will agree that when humans get too hot, we get irritable. That tendency has inspired many mystery writers to set stories during heat waves. Or to put it another way:

“Did you know … more people are murdered at ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once — lower temperatures, people are easy-going. Over ninety -two, it’s too hot to move. But just ninety-two, people get irritable.”

from It Came from Outer Space

In The Lady from Shanghai, a film noir from 1948, a married couple and the husband’s law partner are sailing along the coast of Mexico, heading for San Francisco. They stop for a picnic, and in the sweltering heat, fire barb after barb at one another, revealing more and more of their natures. The sailor they’ve hired to pilot their ship tells a story of how he witnessed a feeding frenzy among sharks. He’d never seen anything more awful until this picnic.

I can use the rising temperatures and humidity to mirror escalating tensions between characters. The ultimate confrontation could take place on a sultry night when not even darkness relieves the heat.

Thunderstorms

Or I can have a sudden thunderstorm appear at the climax as characters clash. In temperate climates, summer thunderstorms usually appear in the afternoon and evening as the heat builds through the day. They are usually brief and violent, a perfect setting and symbol for characters battling each other.

In Watership Down, a fantasy about the lives of wild rabbits in England, a turning point in the story comes when the heroes engineer the escape of several does from a tyrannical warren. The good-guy rabbits have installed one of their own in the warren as a double-agent to help the does escape. As this buck plots to leave the warren with the does, the threat of a thunderstorm builds in scene after scene, so that when the buck and the does make a break for it, so does the thunderstorm, with the tyrant of the warren and his officers in hot pursuit.

Long Summer Evenings

My family recently had the opportunity to stay in a cabin at Shawnee State Park. On the first evening we were there, the sky held white clouds and the sunlight lingered until after 9 p.m. Those kinds of evenings draw me into them. I want to linger too in the soft light.

Summer evenings can be a relaxing way to conclude a story, especially if the main characters have suffered through a lot of trauma and deserve a quiet conclusion. A still summer evening can also provide a contrast to the storyline.

In the mystery short story “Inquest” by Loel Yeo from 1932, an inquest is held in the country home of a wealthy man who has just been found dead. The coroner is trying to establish if the death was suicide or murder. As the August evening grows darker, the verdict seems more and more likely to be one of murder.

For more ideas on how to use July was writing inspiration, click here for my post from 2019.

How can you use the summer weather where you live as writing inspiration? What stories have you read that used summer weather in a memorable way?

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