Sunday, November 20, 2011

Walking Through Your Characters' Next Scene

The Sacandaga River, near Hope, New York
view from Tall Pines cabin

Over an extended Veteran's Day weekend, my wife Dale and I were lucky enough to be able to return to the Tall Pines rustic cabin we discovered in 2009 when I was laid off from Kodak. This place has become my writing nirvana. It's quiet. Isolated. No Internet. No cell service. And a great value.

Last week was our sixth visit, and because the owners are such big-hearted people, it didn't cost us a cent.

I love it so much, I just had to start a new paranormal mystery series based there, called Tall Pines Mysteries. The first book was just released (FOR THE BIRDS, see sidebar on left) and the second book, ESSENTIALLY YOURS, is in the publishing queue for March 2012 release. 

My characters usually transition in the beginning of the story from Honeoye Lake, southeast of Rochester, NY, where they own a lakeside cottage and run an antique shop, to Tall Pines, about four hours away in the southeast corner of the Adirondack Park. 

I'm about halfway through SANCTUARY, book 3, and was looking forward to getting out of the "muddled middle" by placing myself smack dab in the locations of future scenes to get inspired. I craved the woods, the murmuring river, the cool fresh air, the balsam-scented trails...

I needed a mountain for a scene - somewhere folks could ride horses and camp overnight, somewhere with fantastic views of the six million acre park. And, most importantly, I wanted to walk the trail myself. So I started in advance asking about trails from my good friend and "Adirondack advisor," Jonathan Lane, manager of Charlie Johns Country Store in Speculator, NY.  (there is no apostrophe in Johns, that's how they spell it - took me a while to get it right!) Jon has read both FOR THE BIRDS and ESSENTIALLY YOURS, and has advised me on street names and such. I've really enjoyed getting to know him. 

Jon also offered to let me do a book signing this past weekend in his incredible store. It went fantastic, and I met so many super people from the area who also had tons of ideas for me. They drew me maps, told me about the mysterious history of the area, and directed me to books on ghost stories of the Adirondacks, which will likely prime my head full of new ideas.

So, off I went, armed with maps and ideas, ready to search for the "secret" cave at the bottom of Auger Falls, and ready to hike the River Walk in Speculator. I quickly realized that the mountain I dreamed of horses riding up all day long would be too far for me to walk. So, in the end, I made up Whistling Winds Mountain and plunked it in the Silver Lake Sanctuary region. But there were some lovely caves and waterfalls on the Auger Trails hike that are going to be perfect for future scenes in SANCTUARY's final pages.

There is something so alluring about these woodland mountain trails. I think - in all honesty - that I must've been a pioneer in the good old frontier days in one of my former lives. The pull to find out "what's around the bend" is so strong that I have to really police myself. I'd go all day if I could, but I can't do that in good conscience since my wife stays back at the cabin. It wouldn't be fair to her, since her MS makes her legs weak and she can't join me, and there is no cell service on most of these trails, so if something happens to me I'd be alone and stuck out there for who knows how long? Yeah. And it was the middle of November.

Of course, I always bring the camera. Here are some photos from my walks. 

                     Lake Pleasant, Speculator, NY

The Tall Pines Cabin

Algonquin Lake in Wells, NY

Can you see why I'm in love with this place?

While I walked the trails and climbed some hills, I constantly pictured my characters in these scenes, and imagined the action and wild rush of the chase as I clomped along. I fought the urge to follow all the side trails, or drive down a dirt road with no sign... I was always fighting the itch to investigate every inch of this beautiful land.
I wondered how many years it would take me to explore the area so that I've hiked most of the local trails and mountains. A lifetime? Maybe if I lived there, I could do it. 

Setting is one of the most important elements in my novels. Naturally, I need a good plot with lots of twists and turns and surprises. Of course, my characters have to breathe and hurt and love like real people and make my readers care about them. But I need a really good setting to get my juices flowing. I suppose that's because I use so much of nature in my books - I think nature almost is a character in her own right.

How do you imagine your next scene? Do you like to "walk" the scene before you write it? Is it possible for you do that? Or are your settings so far away that you need to use exotic brochures or colorful websites to get your characters where they're going? Or, do you imagine worlds that don't exist in real life, but are very real in your head? 

Let us know about your processes in the comments, below. Please share your thoughts with us. We love comments, and as you probably know, this writing life can be somewhat lonely, so it's a great way to connect with each other.

Meanwhile, life goes on back here in the Genesee Valley, and I have books to finish and dinners to make for the family. Thanksgiving is just four days away, and I have lots to do to prepare.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Warmest wishes,

Aaron Paul Lazar


Aaron Paul Lazar said...

I know that Marta Stephens writes in an imaginary town on the shore of Massachusetts, that Kim Smith uses the charm from her southern towns in her books, and that Ron Adams has been to the Keys where much of Key Lime Squeeze occurs...

But what about you? How do you develop your setting? Tell us about it, below.

Sonya said...

Aaron, those photos are gorgeous!!! Have you ever thought about putting together a calendar or something with them? You take so many wonderful pics!

I've actually found that Google Earth is a fantastic tool when you can't get to the places you've set a story in. :-) At least in more urban areas, you can drag that little yellow guy onto the map and "walk" around the streets, and get a really good idea of the surroundings in a particular city, town, neighborhood or road. This works for major landmarks, too.

The only drawback is there aren't many rural places the yellow guy will drag to, so you have to go out walking in the woods, or the mountains... okay, that's not a drawback. It's good to get outdoors! :-)

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hey, Sonya! Thanks so much! I tried going to the Eiffel Tower with Google Earth and it was fun. ;o) Thanks for the tip!!! (and so nice to see you here again!)