Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Field Studies

Debated for a bit about the title and decided against "Cemetery Plots", although that one's probably more accurate for the purpose intended. I love cemeteries, especially old ones. They're important sources of historical information and provide a rich source of ideas for plots and subplots for a writer.

Last May I was driving the back roads of Connecticut and spied an ancient (by American standards) cemetery in a wooded area. It was possibly a family cemetery, now overgrown with shrubs and grasses, the wooden tombstones weathered beyond legibility. In the midst of this neglected and forgotten place, a patch of iris  poked through the ground. Who had planted the iris so many years ago? I wondered. Had it been a mother's favorite flower and planted there by a grieving husband or loving daughter?  A family story began to take shape in my mind.

At another cemetery in southern Massachusetts, I found the grave of a man. Nothing unusual here. He had lived a long life for the 18th century. His wives hadn't, though. Each of the four had died before the age of 20. I began to ponder that odd fact. Had he been terribly unlucky or was there a darker side to this tragedy? Serial killers aren't confined to the 21st century, after all. Had he gotten away with murder? We'll never know, but again, a story beckoned here.

Name that Character

If you're writing an historical, you've got to love cemeteries. Some of the best names you'll ever find are right there, waiting for you and they come with the dates when they were popular. Hezekiah, Isabel, Esther, and Patience speak to you from the distant past. Abraham, Ezekiel, and Nathaniel - their male counterparts.

Each generation has its popular names and a stroll through the cemetery will reveal them to you.

Question du Jour: Where do you find your plots and character names?


  1. Oh, shocker. I wasn't expecting the change, but I really like this background, Karen.

    This post complements that whole "where do ideas come from" question. I hadn't thought of wandering through cemeteries, but it makes sense.

  2. You can dig up a lot of dirt there.

  3. I love old cemeteries, for the reasons you mentioned, and because I think they're hauntingly lovely, peaceful.

    Also, as much 'trouble' as the name Lola has given me over the years...I'm damn glad my name isn't Hezekiah. ;)

    I'm new here. *waves* Nice to meet you. :)