Friday, July 8, 2011

Discovering New Settings

I love exploring new places. Not only does it give me a chance to study people and eavesdrop on their conversations, it also allows me to experience possible new story settings first hand. And interesting settings can take a scene or story from mundane to fresh and exciting.
This week I visited two such places.
This was actually my second trip to The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts .

The bridge and its gardens are amazing. It was built in the early 1900’s as a trolley bridge. About twenty years later, the trolley line was discontinued and the bridge transformed into a suspended garden.  As a setting for a story it could be used in many different ways.
 It’s easy to imagine the bridge as a setting in a historical novel. What would it have felt like to walk across the bridge when the trolleys first stopped running and then as it transformed into an amazing garden with wisteria curling up lampposts, and fragrant roses arching over stone benches? As a setting, the transforming bridge could be used to mirror the main character’s inner journey.
Whether the story is set in the past or contemporary, I’m left wondering: what would it be like to live overlooking the water or in the bridge’s shadow, to always see the bridge’s stark metal lines, its flowers so full of life and color--but also so exposed to the elements.

Romance. Murder. Loss or love. The Bridge of Flowers seethes with possibilities.  What would it feel like to stand on the bridge and watch as the seasons move toward winter? What does it feel like to run barefoot across it—or to lie on the path at midnight looking up at the stars or with the rain pounding down?  What emotions could this setting make the reader feel?

The second place I visited was Magic Wings in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. 
It’s mainly a live butterfly conservatory. But it also has loads of other cool and freaky, living things:  walkingsticks of all kinds, lizards, tropical birds, a display of hatching chrysalises, giant cockroaches…tropical plants, blooming and in all shades of green.  

Unlike the bridge, Magic Wings feels tight and secret, small hidden things, flashes of movement, glimpses of color, layers of undergrowth hiding living treasures and all held captive within a secure building. It’s an environment filled with natural wonder, but at the same time an environment controlled by man and machines.  As a setting it would have a very different feel than the bridge.
It’s easy to think of a story where the characters are trapped in the conservatory. But what about using it in a more subtle way? What about a woman who is struggling to find freedom in her own life? Wouldn’t this be a great setting to put her story in, at least for a scene or two? What if she worked with the butterflies or in the conservatory’s restaurant?   What if she was a new immigrant to America? What about setting a futuristic story in a butterfly conservatory?

Okay. You get the idea. And I’m not going to give away all the ideas I got.
How about you? Where have you explored lately—and how could you use those settings in a story?


  1. Thanks for sharing that gorgeous setting. Don't you love that feeling. When you walk through a place and stories begin to flow like a torrent through your mind?

    Haven't strayed far from home this summer, but walks in the woods often spark my imagination for the historical novel I'm working on.

  2. Wow that flower bridge is amazing! My father is in love with all things trolley - he has an immense book collection - I wonder if he knows about this bridge. I can totally imagine this bridge in some sort of fantasy novel or an amazing place for a first kiss.

  3. Angelina, I feel the same way about walking in the woods. I always feel inspired. What timeperiod is your story set in?

  4. JRo, cool that your dad loves trolley things. I went to The Shelburne Museum today. Normally, I might not have notice the little display of tin trolley toys, but my eye went right to them. I suspect it was because of the bridge's history.

    One of the things I find amazing, is that the decision to make the garden happened so soon after the bridge closed.