Regardless I have found myself falling into frequent writing trances over the last few days. (To clarify, a writing trance by my own definition is a moment where I stop paying attention to everything else going on because I've been inspired, and I gather details to use in a story either that day or a month or a year down the road.) Perhaps it's because I'm on holiday break, luxury beyond luxury, or maybe excessive turkey induces strange bursts of creativity, but I stop every few minutes and mentally jot down notes. Usually this happens from time to time and more often than not with people. A strange movement. A funny phrase. An irresistible outfit never meant to be. But over this past weekend it's been more constant and more atmospheric. I keep seeing places that look ready for action. A Christmas tree lot. An animal shelter that takes in any animal, literally any animal. And then I wonder what comes first, the place or the person?
Intuitively I want to say the character. How can you write a novel without a character? But what about those lovely atmospheric pieces where the setting frankly takes over the people as if they're possessed by it? (Wuthering Heights pops into mind immediately.) And of course I must fall on a Harry Potter reference. Hogwarts is actually alive. The building is organic and moves and reacts to its inhabitants. How often do we as writers slave over a characters only to drop them in humdrum surroundings? Or they live in the wrong setting, one that is cliched or too complex?
I never give proper credit to setting, to be honest. I often let it materialize on its own, but the piece I'm working on right now switches settings drastically and I think it's forcing my brain to be much more aware of their creations. They can't be arbitrary, or worse yet generic, because they propel my heroine (yes I always write about women or girls) into utterly different states of mind. Her exploration of the settings is key to her development as a character and her quest, albeit trite, is to understand herself through the places she visits and the people she meets. Were I not to meticulously plan these out, to explore them fully first in my head, there's no way I could authentically write her experiences.
Maybe that's why I'm noticing every place I go, not the people around me but rather how the people interact and respond to their environments. It's pleasantly draining because then I remember that other things should occupy my mind. School starting back up in two days. The laundry in the basement that resembles the Fraggle Rock trash heap. Holiday shopping lists barely touched by Black Friday shopping (another provocative setting). But I believe in striking while the iron is hot, and if the creative Sarah is hyperactive this holiday season, I'm tempted to let the laundry grow and sit on a bench somewhere watching the places, not the people.