I grew up in rural Ohio and in the magic of the woods. While much of the land around our house was cleared for farming, there were little patches of woods left by the farmers everywhere. My father used to cut and sell firewood (cutting up fallen trees or cutting down dead ones). He would take me and my sister with him and we would help him load and unload the smaller pieces of wood into the truck bed.
While we waited for my dad to cut up the trees, we’d play in the woods. We would build forts, make up songs, and play made-up games. When we started playing instruments, we would practice among the trees. I would warm the mouthpiece of my cornet and blast a terrible rendition of a Pirates of the Caribbean or a Star Wars song. My sister played the flute, so her music was a bit easier on the ears.
I learned the meaning of hard work and gained a strong appreciation for nature in those years. I also bonded with my dad in a way that many daughters will never get the chance to experience. Dad used the firewood to supplement his income and watching him in those years would lead to a lifetime of admiration and gratefulness for all that he did to take care of us.
So what does the forest have to do your writing? I think a strong appreciation for nature is healthy for us in many ways, but it is particularly advantageous for writers. While cities and suburbs have a wealth of information, the true treasure trove lies among the trees.
To explain, I’ve compiled a list of five reasons as to how visiting the forest can provide inspiration.
1) Many great stories take place in the forest.
Consider Hansel and Gretel, Little House in the Big Woods, Little Red Riding Hood, California, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, The Light in the Forest, “The Most Dangerous Game,” The Hunger Games, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and so many more. The forest makes for a fantastic setting. Why? There is mystery, change, beauty, and unpredictability amongst the trees. A writer has so much material with which to work. It doesn’t matter if it is fantastical or realistic, the forest has hundreds of years of mythology all its own, which is perfect for world building.
2) The forest can heighten your senses.
Great writing usually contains sensory detail. The five senses help us to connect with our surroundings. Consider a quote from Haruki Murakami’s book 1Q84:
“I am nothing. I’m like someone who’s been thrown into the ocean at night, floating all alone. I reach out, but no one is there. I call out, but no one answers. I have no connection to anything.”
The second line gives us a vivid visual image that we as readers can connect to. Words like “night” and “floating all alone” act as tangible examples that underscore the feeling of loneliness. If one were to read the passage without the second line, it wouldn’t resonate as deeply with the reader. Also, the act of floating on a buoyant and deep liquid has the potential to evoke a sense of touch, which emphasizes the lack of human contact.
While in the forest, all of a writer’s senses are engaged. Visual stimulation comes from different types of colorful foliage and the chance sightings of birds and animals. Smelling the decay of forest leaves and the sharp and sweet scents of different plants can give writers numerous ideas. There are also many sounds. From the startling crack of a twig to the happy twitter of a bird, noise can be an important indicator of change or mood in literature. Writers will also benefit from touching the rough bark of trees and the delicate, silky petals of a flower (but know your poison ivy). Finally — and believe it or not — the forest tastes different. The air is cleaner, often crisper. There are many plants within a forest that are considered weeds but are actually edible. To be safe, one should consult an expert and maybe even take a food forest tour.
3) The forest can challenge you.
Walking along hiking trails is a different type of walking. There are usually obstacles everywhere, like twigs, rocks, and soft patches of ground. There are sometimes steep ravines that you want to avoid or waterways you need to cross. Often, there are unexpected turns, surprises, and beautiful views.
This sense of self-awareness in characters is also important. Consider how walking down a hiking trail would be different for that of a dating couple in comparison to a person fleeing from a pursuer. All of them would be affected by their surroundings, but in different ways. The writer could use this to their advantage to create opportunities or difficulties.
4) The forest is a secret world.
The forest has the potential to teach a writer a great deal about world building. How can a cottage tucked into the woods on a hill change a story? What if the creek floods and the waters become deep and fast? How can fallen trees lead to new opportunities or dangers? If a character stumbles upon a monument or a grave, how does that add to the atmosphere of the story?
The forest is also a wild place, usually sectioned off from civilized society. There is potential for things to happen here that could not be easily done in a city or neighborhood. It can lead to chance encounters that have significant meanings. It can be a place of terror, delight, peace, solitude, and much more.
5) The forest shows us cause and effect.
Whether it be from natural or manmade causes, the forest is a continuous cycle of life and death. Aging is shown in every stage in the woods, contained within the plants and animals. Violence is also present — and its effects — from predators and competing vegetation.
The impact of humans is especially important. Whether it be deforestation, pollution, littering, conservation efforts, or whatever, humans change the environment continuously. Emotions can be explored here, as well as the price of carelessness.