Making things up

I spent last weekend in San Francisco and Napa Valley. It was beautiful, fun, and I learned that sharing wine tastings is a good idea if you’re going to visit a lot of wineries in one day.

The Golden Gate Bridge peeking through the fog.
The Golden Gate Bridge peeking through the fog.

I didn’t come up with any new stories, but I did get some glimmers that might turn into a story later on. I put things like this in my idea file, and occasionally I’ll find a sentence or two I jotted down years ago has become a story I want to write. Here’s a rough overview of how I worked through potential ideas on the trip.

There are several types of things that typically trigger story ideas for me. The most common are:

  • setting
  • time period
  • character
  • predicament/problem faced by the character

On this trip, I found myself thinking about these potential settings:

  • San Francisco
  • Napa Valley
  • the town of Napa

That let me to think about time periods that might be interesting to write about in those settings:

  • Present day
  • San Francisco in the 1800s
  • San Francisco before/during/after the earthquake in 1906
  • 1930s

I wasn’t able to come up with an idea in the present day in any of the settings, so that went to the bottom of the list.

I really liked the idea of setting a story in San Francisco in the 1800s, and decided to do some research on that down the line so that I had a better feel for what the town was like. In particular, I was intrigued by what it must have looked like before buildings were built on all of the hills, and of course I love cable cars so I liked the idea of setting a story when the cable cars were first going into service. (On a previous trip I went to the Cable Car Museum, which I highly recommend.)

There are many possibilities for what to write before/during/after the earthquake in 1906, but nothing jumped out at me.

The 1930s appealed to me because I found myself thinking a lot about the climates in both San Francisco and Napa Valley, and about how the weather must have seemed to people who were from less balmy areas. I have some relatives who moved from near Pittsburgh to California around the 30s, which may have triggered this line of thought.

At this point I had narrowed my ideas down to two main possibilities:

  • San Francisco in the 1800s
  • a town in Napa Valley in the 1930s

Both options would require historical research to make sure I was accurately representing cultural/location/historical details. I would also need to narrow down the timelines to a particular year. For example, I might find that something interesting happened in 1926, or maybe 1943, that I wanted to reference in my story.

I needed at least one main character, and that character had to have some problem to deal with. That’s where I stalled out. I couldn’t come up with a good enough predicament for any of my potential protagonists.

And so these ideas go into the file … at least for now.

Snuggling on the drive to the trailhead.
Snuggling on the drive to the trailhead.

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