Go where you find inspiration: Part 3: The airport and times of transition

Go where you find inspiration, and go there often.

Alain de Botton writing in the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport. Image source: Zocalo Public Square

Alain de Botton writing in the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport
Image source: Zocalo Public Square

I’ve driven to the airport too many times recently, saying goodbye to people I love.

But it’s gotten me thinking.

How about visiting an airport to inspire new creativity for a “stuck” story?

Airports have always inspired me, with their excitement and anticipation of new adventures and fond reunions. I love starting new adventures and seeing people saying their “goodbyes” and “welcomes homes”. What does it mean symbolically if a character is at the airport? And where could your character end up?

'A week at the airport' book cover. Image source: Profile Books

Image source: Profile Books

I started thinking about this when I read an article about Alain de Botton, who did a one-week writers residency at Heathrow’s new Terminal 5. You can read about his experience and the book he wrote about it in his book, A Week at the Airport.

For this project, he stayed in the airport and the hotel for 24 hours a day for one week. That was his only venue – and he said the confinement to one setting was great inspiration.

He was inspired by the terminal itself – its technology, the design, and its sheer size and scale. He said he likes airports so much he often longs to be delayed in them.

But he did need to go home eventually, to return to feeling rooted among familiar things and people.

 

How can visiting the airport inspire new creativity?

If your story is stuck, then think about this:

Airports are all about excitement and anticipation of new adventures.

They’re full of tearful farewells and joyous reunions.

Cairns Domestic Airport, leaving for 2005 Japan trip with Mansfield State High School group Image source: My camera

Cairns Domestic Airport,
leaving for 2005 Japan trip with Mansfield State High School group
Image source: My camera

If your life is boring and you need to remember what drama looks like, drive yourself on over to the airport.

For a new touch of drama to add to your story plot, send your characters to the airport. Depending on the reason they go there, anything could happen.

 

What does it mean symbolically for a character to be at the airport?

Is your character always at the airport? Maybe they’re a wanderer, without a real home? Or maybe they can’t commit.

Or is this your character’s first trip to an airport? The first time they’re travelling outside their home town? Like Sam and Frodo stepping outside the bounds of the Shire for the first time at the very beginning of their epic quest.

48 Airport - busy scene AlaindeBottonHeathrow_01 - from Moodie Report

Image source: Moodie Report

Airports symbolise new paths, whether that’s in relationships, career paths, or other adventures. A busy airport can be a symbol for your character’s desire for freedom, or their ambitions and hopes. It can also symbolise that a character is being creative and their new idea is ready to “take off”.

One of my incredible friends, Joslen Ho, recently said, “I always feel something special each time I step inside an airport. Perhaps because I made some important decisions at an airport in the past; or maybe because I am seduced by the life stories that must occur at a place of imminent departures…”

Dreams about airports usually symbolise new arrivals (including births) or departures (including friends leaving or passing away). Dreaming of a deserted airport indicates that your character’s plans or goals are being changed or delayed, as if “nothing is going anywhere”.

On the other hand, some people don’t like airports at all because they can’t see past the hassle of travelling:

“It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression ‘as pretty as an airport’. Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly. Some attain a degree of ugliness that can only be the result of a special effort. This ugliness arises because airports are full of people who are tired, cross, and have just discovered that their luggage has landed in Murmansk. … They have sought to highlight the tiredness and crossness motif with brutal shapes and nerve jangling colours, to make effortless the business of separating the traveller from his or her luggage or loved ones, to confuse the traveller with arrows that appear to point at the windows.”
– Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

 

How will your character find it when they get there?

If you’re sending your character to a country you’ve never visited, how do you go about researching what it would be like there?

XiengKhouang Airport, Phonsavan, Laos Image source: My camera, Withers family trip, 2007

XiengKhouang Airport, Phonsavan, Laos
Image source: My camera, Withers family trip, 2007

First, Google what the airport at their destination looks like! Here’s what the tiny airport at Phonsavan in Laos was like back in 2007 – no idea what it would be like now, but I would Google it if I was going to send a character there.

These other ideas are adapted from this great post [http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/travel-on-the-page-how-to-write-about-a-country-youve-never-visited] by Chuck Sambuchino on Writer’s Digest.

  1. Do a virtual tour on Google Maps to find out how many days it would take for your character to cross the desert in a truck, or how many minutes it would take your character to walk to work.
  2. Make a list of little details you could use. Google what you don’t know!
    1. What do they call Sprite in that country? (In some places, they call it “lemonade”.)
    2. How does a toilet work in Japan? (Spoilers: Singing toilets.)
  3. Culture immersion: Read that country’s books. Watch their TV shows. Watch their news online on YouTube. Don’t worry about the plot or understanding the language. Watch out for more little details and those little mannerisms that are specific to a culture.

You can even check out the Destination-Specific Travel Hints on the Australian government’s Smart Traveller website. [http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/] For example, Smart Traveller may tell you that you can usually exercise normal safety precuations in Belgium, but the demonstrations that frequently occur there “can be large and can occasionally turn violent”. Hmmm…

Here’s to new horizons!

Sunrise over Japan at 5am as we flew home Image source: My camera

Sunrise over Japan at 5am as we flew home
Image source: My camera

Do you love airports as much as I do?

What would your character be doing in an airport?

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2014. Reblogging is always highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

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3 thoughts on “Go where you find inspiration: Part 3: The airport and times of transition

  1. Airports are strangely fantastic for inspiration. I find this in music as well, and know highly influential songs that were influenced by or even written at airports. It’s a strange sense but I love it – leading possibilities of adventure.

    Like

      • One big example – ambient pioneer Brian Eno came up with the idea for his most important work “Ambient 1: Music for Airports” after being annoyed at listening to pop music while being exhausted and waiting for a plane. He wanted to create a nice piece of music that would sit beautifully in the background of everything, and even help some to rest/sleep.

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