Writers are often told to write what they know. Sometimes this creates problems, though. “Why would anyone want to read about my life? It’s more boring than waiting for the dryer to be done,” we may think to ourselves. Well, yes, most readers wouldn’t be very interested in a character who details her exact method for emptying the dishwasher. But there are various aspects of your everyday, mundane life that you can draw on for inspiration.
For example, vacations. No, you don’t even have to write a novel about someone taking a vacation. Consider setting your story in a place you’ve visited, instead of where you usually live. I do this all the time. And it works.
Here’s another idea — use your vacation setting as fodder for your plot. A few years ago, we went to Boston and Cape Cod (not my first time, but the first for my husband). Since I’ve been to this city many times, I know enough about the landmarks, history, the lifestyle, and general demographics to include it in my writing.
Using this train of thought also gave me plans for some of my secondary characters that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with. Their occupations — museum curator; archaeologist; historian; keeper of treasures. Their backgrounds — growing up by the ocean; in a capital city; their parents were artists or classical musicians or tour guides.
There’s also always the local legends and folklore. That makes for some really interesting research, no matter where you visit.
On the northern tip of the Cape sits a museum that holds the remains of an authentic pirate ship. It was called The Whydah (pronounced wid-ah), and it was wrecked in a storm in 1717 (according to the town records of the day). At the time, it was rumored that the ship’s captain was not only a pirate, but that he was having an affair with a local girl (who came from a Puritan community).
Not only was this a big scandal for the Massachusetts Bay Colony, it unfortunately resulted in historical tragedy. Captain Samuel Bellamy lost his life apparently trying to get back to his sweetheart, as his ship went down mere miles from the village where Miss Maria Hallett lived.
There are numerous legends and superstitions about what happened to her — she died in childbirth; she became a witch and haunted the shoreline, still searching for her lost love; she changed her name and went to live with a Native American tribe. I find their star-crossed tale haunting and intriguing. It’s captivated the minds of several authors, non-fiction and fiction alike.
It’s also a fantastic example of what literary gold you can find beneath the basics of the tourism pamphlets.