Familiar flowers and writing what I know

Familiar flowers and writing what I know

Bird of Paradise from Wikimedia Commons
Bird of Paradise, from Wikimedia Commons

Today’s Words: 1022
Found Objects total: 24725
Exercise: None
Other Stuff on my Mind: Writing what I know

I can’t stand bird of paradise plants. I had them in my backyard growing up, and they seem absolutely ordinary to me. I know other people who love them and think they’re very exotic, but they are just about the last things I would choose to put in my yard today*, and I certainly wouldn’t think to write about them. But I do know them well: I know their shape, their colors, the waxy texture of their broad, dark-green leaves; how they look in all weather and seasons, what it takes to cut them, and what makes their homes on or near them. So if I had to choose a plant to write about, I’d probably do well to pick bird of paradise.

One of the things I’ve really struggled with in this project is choosing a city to set it in. From the very beginning I was determined that it needed to be a middle-American city: Minneapolis, Denver, Detroit, Columbus, Chicago. This presents a problem, because I’ve only been to each of those cities either as a child or for a weekend, and can’t possibly know enough about them to write them convincingly.

This is one of the problems in living within the same 60-mile radius my entire life. I know where I’m setting Temperance when I finally write it: it’ll be in an alternate version of the town I live in now. But for whatever reason I wanted Found Objects set in a big city, one with weather and districts and places one could get easily lost in, and I don’t really have any experience with those.

But tonight as I was struggling to write my character’s experience of entering the city for the first time, I had to really ask myself WHY I couldn’t set it in a place I know. Why can’t it be set in an alternate Santa Barbara? Is it just that I’m not looking deep enough to find what I need there? In a way, setting a portal fantasy partly in a city that is SO VERY CONCERNED with the way it looks (I actually do mean the city here, not the people–if you’ve ever lived in a place that has an Architectural Board of Review you might know what I mean) is actually kind of perfect, because it’s the last place you’d expect to find something like the Lodge or the people in it. It might actually add a whole layer of conflict, and as writers, conflict is something we should always choose.

So I’m rethinking this. What’s the phrase? “Familiarity breeds contempt?” Maybe not contempt, in this case, but things that are familiar do seem very ordinary.

But discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary is one of the things I love best.

* There actually is one in the back yard at the new house. Will it survive after we move in? Stay tuned to find out!

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