Saturday, June 6, 2009

Real Places That Could Inspire Fictional Stories

I stumbled across a blog post at Alex Carnegie's blog about the "Kowloon Walled City" in Hong Kong, a haunting city that was torn down by Chinese authorities in 1993. If you take a look at the pictures of Kowloon below, I think you'll see just how easily a writer could create a fictional world using these images as inspiration.

Apparently, the Kowloon Walled City (also known as Hak Nam) was built as a Chinese outpost to ward off pirates, and then over time, the small city existed in a location outside of Hong Kong's police district and it was taken over by squatters. The city grew into a rundown residential square with apartments built on top of others, in a tightly knit series of hovels. It became known as a hub for illegal activity and opium dens and poor working families, until authorities tore it down and built a park.

Seeing images of Kowloon got me thinking.

What sorts of real places inspire the stories and the world-building of a novelist? For you, what real places gave you a jumping off point for your novel or short story? Do you post pictures on your computer, or near your regular writing spot to inspire your imagination?

I know for me, there are myriad places that come to mind as I write, but some truly stand out in my mind. Let's begin by looking at Kowloon Walled City, a place that looks like an urban nightmare and the perfect set for a Hong Kong thriller or urban fantasy epic.

What an urban nightmare come to life! Kowloon is a sardine-packed city that stands wonderful and ghastly at the same time. So here are a few other mysterious and beautiful and potentially inspiring places from around the world.

Bora Bora Island - Amazing blue reefs and beaches.

Orkney - North of Scotland there is an archipelago called Orkney (The Orkney Islands), that is comprised of nearly 70 small islands, some of which carry old neolithic sculptures and rock formations some dating back to 6,000 BC.

Racetrack Playa, Death Valley, CA - The home of mysterious running stones, which move periodically leaving tracks behind them. No one has ever seen the stones moves and they move with no human or animal help. It's a mystery (and perhaps a story starter?).

So once again, what real live places inspire your writing?


Brandon said...

Those are some great pictures. I've found that my backpacking trips in the up in the Mammoth mountains, and my trips to places like Zion and Bryce in Utah, and the Rockies in Colorado have helped spark my imagination.

I've noticed that my short stories are more vivid and descriptive. And my novels are more dialogue and action driven.
The one exception is "When the Sky Fell," since I only deep edited it, and Mike wrote the entire first draft.

Scotland said...

I was in Orkney in November. Stunning place. Actually, all of Scotland is great for inspiring writing. But Orkney was a very wild and untamed place, different from the other places I travelled there.

Alex said...

There appears to be a set of tire-tracks next to that Running Stone: maybe they hitchhike? ;P

I think part of the fun of drawing upon real world locations in Fantasy fiction is that, although as a writer you're "translating it" from one to the other, as a reader you also find yourself translating the other way, and when you recognise places you know in ones that never existed there's a nice sense of discovery, or perhaps rediscovery of things you already know - for instance finding pieces of London in Mieville's Bas Lag novels. They say Sci-Fi's the "literature of cognitive estrangement" but I think all speculative fiction has this strong sense of reflecting the "real".

Visiting Barcelona recently was very inspirational for me by the way, it's an amazing city.

Anita said...

Very cool!

Anonymous said...

I've been to the racetrack when I was doing geology research; that old Leanord Nimoy show, In Search of..., even did a segment on it. Spooky. You constantly feel like you're being watched.

Of course, then our car got stuck and we literally almost died in 110 degree heat...

Keanan Brand said...

Those Kowloon pictures totally give a dark urban science fiction vibe. Movies started reeling in my head when I saw those photos, and I wondered if directors and writers have already channeled those images in some of the films I've seen. Doesn't matter, 'cause I think I feel my own story coming on.

And Racetrack Playa sounds strange enough to require further research.

Thanks for the inspiration!

Suzanne said...

This is great! I am researching the North Hampton Lunatic Asylum! It is an old, abandoned, castle like place in North Hampton MA.

Very creepy. I think my new fiction may have something to do with lost children.... children and Lunatic Asylums are always a good Gothic mix.

beth♥ said...

Wonderful post, Alex. Orkney is on my extensive wanderlust list. Sigh. Maybe someday. I live in ARKADELPHIA. Trust me, I wish it was fictional.

I spent every evening of my high school years on a hill watching the sun set behind this view: ~ Every. Day. When I need to be centered I check out this view from the webcam at my high school. It isn't the same as the real thing, but it helps.

Alexander Field said...

Gorgeous view Beth...I'm curious...what kind of story does Arkadelphia inspire? Do I want to know?

beth♥ said...

Nobody knows, actually. Some say that it actually IS a mix of Arkansas & Philadelphia and means 'Arc of Brotherly Love.' It spent its 1st 30 years as Blakelytown ... another conundrum as the town wasn't founded by any Blakely. It was settled by John Hemphill. That's all I've got!

Rachel Marks said...

Oh, wow!!! Inspiring pics. I love the towering mess of Kowloon!!! I wanna write something with a set like that!

I just read a fantasy series a while ago set on the Orkney Islands: WOLFSKIN and FOXMASK. Enchanting stuff.