When a story idea springs into my mind and takes over my neural pathways for a time, the idea is almost always inspired by a setting – a place. Before I know anything about the characters, I already have a sense of the sights, sounds, scents and textures of the place where they will act out their lives, meet their challenges, be defeated, be victorious, be in love, be embittered will become real to me.
Why do settings become real first? For most writers, plot or characters come first.
Usually, the setting becomes real because I find myself walking through it. Sometimes a particularly arresting dream will inspire the setting. Sometimes, a photo or painting will spark a setting idea, and before long characters come to inhabit it. Sometimes the setting becomes real to me because I physically walk about in the place, and suddenly a story takes hold of me and demands to be written.
Today, a tiny hamlet on the Carquinez Strait whispered to me, “There’s a story here. You should tell it.”