“Is no one else freaking out about this pun?”

My question was met with silence. We were walking to The Settle Inn, a pub in Stirling, Scotland. I couldn’t stop thinking about the name.

“The Settle Inn!” I said again. “It’s so clever! Does no one else think this is amazing? Guys?”

Everyone had already gone inside. I stopped and looked up at the sign above the door, repeating the name inside my head. Settle Inn. Settle Inn. It was more than just another pub.

It was going to become the title for my next novel.

When I first have ideas for stories, they’re just shadows. Maybe there’s just a couple of characters, or a place, or part of a plot. But usually something happens that ties it all together. It can be anything—a person, a place, a phrase.

The Settle InnSeeing the Settle Inn was one of those inspiring  moments for me. It gave me a title, and a focus, for the story idea that I’d started in Scotland. Now the girl in a haunted house in the middle of the woods that trapped unwary travelers came to life for me. After I got the title, character names, plot, and setting all came together.

A few days later, I visited the Edinburgh Museum of Art. One painting made me stop and stare. It was called Six Butterflies and a Moth.

I related it back to the characters in the Settle Inn. Six of them were more beautiful and valued than the main character (the moth). It helped me to understand their relationship and how the story fit together.

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Not only did these little moments come together to help me create the outline for the novel, but just being surrounded by the Scottish countryside influenced the ambience and setting for the story. And my later travels to other countries inspired even more stories. I have ideas for a historian in steampunk Berlin, zombies in fantasy Croatia, and a made-up world that’s a combination of Italy and England. I’ve also been working on a book called The Backpacker’s Guide to the Otherworld that combines my experiences taking trains through foreign countries, staying in hostels, and my love of magic.

The people I met and the places I traveled to changed the way I saw the world, but mostly, they changed the worlds I created inside my head.