A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about writing from experience and basically, about “what you know.” I had been advised to use that method many years ago, when I was just starting out. In any case, believe it or not, that philosophy has worked remarkably well for me, as far selecting and crafting topics. Whether or not it has made me a good writer is a whole different question.
Another great source for topics and general inspiration for coming up with writing topics and plots, however, has been landscape paintings. Generally, landscapes, in particular, offer a snapshot in time and of a place with a wide view of a handful of events, even if it is just a couple of people in a wagon rambling down a dirt road. Any of these events in the painting, at least for me, can trigger an idea or plot for a story.
Beyond the two people in the wagon, for instance, consider what is in the background. Are there mountains? Think about what could be happening in those mountains and how does it connect to or affect the people in the wagon. Is there a forest off to the side? Think about what devious scheme someone hiding in there may be concocting and are the two wagon people linked to it.
Take the example above from Albert Bierstadt’s “The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak” and reflect on the plot possibilities based on the activity in the foreground, the mountains towering all around or perhaps just on the lake and waterfall in between. What are the people doing and who are they? How did they get there? And, if they are in lost or in trouble, why?
With the internet, you do not even need to visit a museum these days to view landscapes, although I much prefer a face-to-face as the best way to “become one” with a painting, especially with all the detail typically weaved into a larger piece of work. I could go through a list of favorites, but generally I am drawn to American and European landscapes from the 18th and 19th centuries.
They tend to transport me out of reality, at least for the few minutes I may be looking at it, allowing my mind to be released to create a plot based on the subject, as well as the background of the painting. As the imagination is set free, I find the possibilities for plots and scenes tend to flow unencumbered. I won’t apply the cliché that the possibilities are endless, but it really is not that difficult to conjure up at least a few story possibilities from just a single landscape.