The Inspiration (and Distraction) of Nature’s Beauty

This view of a near-by island (and all the photos in this post)
are a five-minute drive from where I live

It’s really no wonder that the natural beauty of Maine has produced and inspired many writers, as diverse as poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, children’s book writer Barbara Cooney and horror-writer Stephen King. Awe-inspring beauty is all around us and can invade our every thought as writers, in what we write and how we feel. Inspirational but also potentially distracting.

Consider this short excerpt from Longfellow’s poem, “The Secret of the Sea”:

Ah! what pleasant visions haunt me

As I gaze upon the sea!

All the old romantic legends,

All my dreams, come back to me.

Sails of silk and ropes of sandal,

Such as gleam in ancient lore;

And the singing of the sailors,

And the answer from the shore! 

The lure of the sea is very real; every week for the past almost-four months, I’ve posted a video of just one of the many beautiful natural locations in this state. It’s one tiny corner of the natural beauty of what inspires me in this state, where I live and and where I write.

Within a two-minute drive, I can be to coastal locations that look like they belong in a movie—inspiring as a writer, creating a strong sense of place. And at the same time, the sea air and beauty can be incredibly refreshing and rejuvenating, breathing new life into a tired writing mind.

Sometimes, as with the history that steeps the buildings, the natural beauty can overwhelm me and become either intoxicating or all-consuming. And, at it’s worse, it can be all-demanding: look at me. You must!

In one of my WIPs, this creates problems for my main character. She is drawn to Maine because she sees what she wants to see: an incredibly beautiful place, only that. She can’t or won’t see the things that are bad or not so good about the place. She is so infatuated with the image in her mind that she cannot see the reality of what really is.

If this this intense lure and beauty of place can overwhelm someone who lives here or a character in a book, is it possible that writing with a strong sense of setting can throw off the balance with other elements in a novel, like character development? This is one of the dangers that I find as I write with a strong sense of place.

Do you write in a beautiful natural environment that is distinct in its own voice? Does it affect how you write or what you write about? Do you ever find that the balance between setting and other elements become out of kilter?



  1. Deborah says:

    I don’t think a strong sense of place throws off the development of any other aspect of a story. On the contrary, rooting the characters in the surroundings allows those characters to react and seek to understand the landscape in a way that gives insight into the way they think.

  2. I personally love novels in which the setting/sense of place becomes a character itself. I think as with anything, there does need to be some balance – rounded out characters, a developed plot – but I don’t find setting distracting at ALL. I’m one of those people who also loves paragraphs of description of setting (so maybe I’m the wrong person to ask). Your WIP sounds SO intriguing. I love the battle that you’ve created for your MC … I can’t wait to hear if the blinders ever come off for her, and when they do, how she resolves the ugliness that she can’t currently see. Oo la la! Sounds delicious!

  3. You should be part of the Maine tourism bureau. 😉 I’ve enjoyed living vicariously through your posts, learning more about your fabulous town.

    Interesting how you’re incorporating this setting into your WIP. I can’t claim to write in a beautiful *natural* environment b/c I’ll be including Chicago as a backdrop in my WIP, and the skyscrapers here aren’t exactly organic :P, but…yes, setting wholly affects what I write about. It’s pretty obvious when a writer is passionate about their hometown or even their fave vacation spot, and if they’ve studied their craft, then it should weave itself in seamlessly: not too over done, but with enough panache to entice a reader so they feel like they’re there. Hard to get the balance just right, though.


    p.s. I’m going to Cape Cod for a family reunion in July, and I’m looking forward to experiencing that whole coastal vibe I keep reading about here.

  4. CMSmith says:

    I have to admit, I’m kind of envious about your location.

  5. I LOVE seeing how different your pictures are from Melissa’s! Being from Chicago and living in Minneapolis now give me a much different backdrop–which relates to your previous post.

  6. Cynthia Robertson says:

    For me the trick is to slip Place in…almost un-noticed. To have setting permeate the plot so that it is not distracting, yet still sets the ambiance.
    And anyway, if I wax on too long in my rapsodizing about the medieval world some writer friend who critiques my stuff is sure to yank me back with “I think you go on too long here, Cynthia, reads like a travel log.” Which effectively pops my travel happy bubble 🙂
    Then I have to figure out what to cut.

  7. I WISH I had such distractions! Out my back window are tall prairie grasses and houses, and…that’s it.

    I enjoy stories with strong settings, however, I do feel impatient when the descriptions go on. And on. Setting used almost as a main character is very intriguing to me.

  8. Deborah, That’s such a good way of looking at it. And I always wonder if I am searching for that “rooting” for myself as much as for my characters, since I moved all over the place while I was growing up!? Great comment!

    Melissa, I love that as well — and I also love paragraphs of description. I tend toward narrative anyway, so I need to really guard against that. Your comment makes me think that the two go hand in hand a little in my writing! Thanks for your kind words about my WIP. Now, a kick in the rear toward the kitchen table, please!

    Barb, Haha, I actually thought about that this week — how I sounded like a tourism bureau! But I decided to go for it anyway because it is such a huge influence on all aspects of my life, including writing. I’m not so sure that I’m passionate about *everything* here, but the ocean has my solid approval! I love Chicago as a backdrop (you and Nina have that in common); the city has its own charm and use as a setting! p.s. have fun at Cape Cod!

    Christine, Yeah, it looks great (and the scenery is beautiful), but believe me there are downsides, too!! 🙂 p.s. thanks!

    Nina, Yes, Melissa and I have talked about how we both talk about our environments so much — and the contrast is pretty startling! I love both Minneapolis (started school at Carleton!) and Chicago as backdrops, great vibrant cities!

    Cynthia, Aha!! That’s exactly what I was driving at: that I need to work at slipping place in almost unnoticed or (almost) incidental to the story. And the travel log read? GUILTY on these past few blog days!! 🙂

    Amanda, Prairie grasses have a special place in my heart; lived on the plains of Colorado for a long time! (the houses, not so much except great for neighbor-friends!). Remember, those ocean views are a short drive from my house. I live in an old established village neighborhood with views of houses myself! p.s. wish I could transport you to the island for a quick respite!