Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A Walk in the Woods

Having plotted stories on trails from the east coast to the west coast, over a span of twenty years, I've learned to never underestimate the power of a good walk in the woods to get the plot ideas flowing.

It probably helps that most of the stories I write have at least one scene set on a trail over mountains or between neighboring frontier cabins, so there's always a research element involved in hiking for me. But I think it's more than that. There's something in the purely physical activity of hiking--breathing clean air, getting the blood pumping--and the inspiring scenery and wildlife encountered, that gets those creative juices flowing. By now I've trained my brain to go exploring down a maze of story paths as soon as my hiking boots hit the trail.

Brian and our old dog, Hiero, on a trail in the Cascades, one snowy spring

Sunday after church my husband, dog, and I drove out to one of our favorite mountain lakes on the Rogue River. We hiked to Blue Grotto. It's a five mile round trip, or near about, and it was the warmest day we've had so far for hiking this spring. I'm a hot weather wimp. Let the temps get much above 70 and I find steep hiking a slog. Sunday's afternoon temperature was right on the border of what I can handle, which meant I wasn't talking much as we hiked, which meant my mind was wandering down its own paths. And a few knotty plot issues for the upcoming chapters in my WIP got themselves untangled.

I now know:

~ who kidnaps a certain character, and how that character gets away.
~ how two characters are introduced earlier, when I need them to be
~ how to correct the present problem of my antagonist having fallen out of the story for too long
~ who the third POV character is going to be, and why
~ that ring that popped up out of nowhere in a recent scene, complete with a history that caught me totally by surprise, has an inscription on the inside of the band. I wonder what it will say?

This ring is like a character that pops on stage unexpectedly and insists they have an important part to play in the story. Generally I let them stay, though they can be hard to manage. But when they (in this case it) fit so perfectly, it's reassuring to a writer. To this writer. It gives me the feeling that this story exists already, somewhere in my soul. Like a vein of ore hidden beneath common old rock, that I sit here each day and chip away at. When story elements like this ring coming spilling onto the screen, unplanned, but right, it feels like striking gold.

All that, and I got great exercise too. And spent time with my husband and our dog in a beautiful setting, and incidentally was reminded that whenever I have my character trekking over mountains or along rivers or through woods, I need to have them dive-bombed by pesky droning flies and bees on a fairly regular basis!

So what's your favorite non-writing activity in which you actually are writing, just not obviously to the untrained eye?


  1. My best story ideas come to me when I walk. It's supposed to enhance creativity and I think it does! Sounds like it's the same for you:)

  2. My story ideas come best from exploring the outdoors as well! Striking gold as you say. I had an opportunity to galavant in the woods on an historical tour this weekend and the creative juices were flowing. "...The feeling that this story exists already, somewhere in my soul." I couldn't have said it better.

  3. Carla, the very words "historical tour" are enough to make me drool. We have a lot of history nearby us here in southern OR. Maybe one day I'll write about it and I won't have to set my heart winging back east 3000 miles to do so. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and mine wants to write about the 18th century frontier. :)

    Laura, Indeed. It's been this way for me from the first full length novel I started back in 1991. I've tromped and plotted my way through the Appalachians, the Rockies, the Cascades, the Great Smokies, and a few flat spots in between.

  4. Walking on the trails in the hills behind my house absolutely gets my story knots figured out. And when stuck in traffic. I've actually come to quite enjoy traffic jams!

  5. Rachel, you reminded me that long drives across the country have also been good plotting times in the past. But with the price of gas about tripled these days, we haven't done a REALLY long road trip in years. We used to jump in the car and think nothing of driving for days to get somewhere. Now just driving out to the lake where we hike (about 40 min away) makes us stop and think, can we really afford it this week?

  6. Same here, Lori. I get so many ideas when I'm walking--and it just makes me feel happy and alive. Congrats on making so many breakthroughs with your book!