Yesterday, I visited a place most conducive to writerly thinking: a cemetery. That may sound morbid or disrespectful - I don't mean it either way. Holly-Wood Cemetery, located in Richmond, is a quiet and beautiful place. Because of its beauty, and because I have no relatives or friends buried there, it didn't seem as somber as I expected. It was more like a sweeping park, with trees, hedges, and magnificent statuary doing honor to the memories of thousands.
I think that what makes a cemetery writerly is that, like a book, it is a suggestion of so much more than what you see. When you read a story, even one with intense detail, much of the world is left to your imagination. If you see a character mentioned once, you must realize that so much else must exist in that book's world: the character's past, thoughts, hopes, favorite foods, memories, friends, inspirations, possessions, and ancestry. A web of fictional existence centers on that character, stretching in every direction beyond the scope of the book. (I concede that not all characters have all of these things, but most have at least some of them.)
A grave is the same way. It is a name for which you must assume a family, a mind, a life - an entire story. The best books, I think, give you the impression that even a character who appears only briefly has a story, just as every person you see in a crowd or driving on the road is the center of his or her own life. A cemetery is a place where this is not just a hoped-for suggestion but the truth. Sometimes, a grave even hints at the story, whether by an inscription, recent flowers, or even just a level of carving that obviously cost money. In the same way that a sentence can outline a minor character in a book, people in the cemetery were marked with brief descriptions: "Mother" or "Father" (in one heartrending case, "Daddy"), or a military rank. Sometimes, they had quirks: one stone bore a beautifully engraved and totally unexplained raccoon.
It is also worth noting, of course, that one can find excellent names in a cemetery.
This actually inspired me to possibly include a trip to the cemetery for the protagonists of The Dogwatchers. It would be a highly convenient way to come across a particular plot point, and I can think of a reason they would go. I think I will do it, though I'll have to mull it over a bit for two reasons. First, I tend to want to include anything which interested me in recent life in my writing, and it is sometimes not relevant. (Sort of like when you watch Lassie and decide you want a collie.) Secondly, I would have to be sure that the cemetery didn't take the story to a dark place that I don't mean it to. Holly-Wood Cemetery gave me just the feeling I'd like my protagonists to have and for my readers to get from reading the scene; if I can recreate that, I will be quite happy.