As a fiction writer, I think one of the best things I can do to keep my imagination active is to travel to other countries and explore landscapes to learn what makes them unique and beautiful. I’ve been blessed to travel to over 50 countries, and I think that has helped me to make my stories richer and more distinctive because I have a variety of experiences to pull from.
However, most working writers don’t have the time or ability to travel to a location that proves to be an ideal setting for their work. And there’s only so much you can learn from an online image search. You might be able to put buildings in their proper places and talk about architecture, but you might miss out on adding details like the way fresh crepes smell like cinnamon and melted butter as they’re made right in front of you in the shadow of Notre Dame or how getting pelted in the face with wet lotus blossoms by a monk in Cambodia as a blessing might be mistaken for a bug hitting your face if you’re not expecting it. Or you might not know to add in that in some countries like China and Peru people with blonde or red hair aren’t seen often by people in more rural areas, and locals might want to take their picture, which could work into your plot in multiple ways- everything from a germaphobe hating to be touched to someone running late and getting stopped constantly to the kid who never stands out at home finally getting some attention.
In essence, it’s all about the details – the experiences, sights, sounds, and smells, like how the scent of Bulgarian rose oil infused products lingers on clothes and in suitcases long after being removed or what it sounds like to have dozens of hummingbirds zip around you in the Ecuadorian rainforest – that you can’t always get from photographs alone.
There are an unlimited number of ways that setting, and the people that exist in that setting, can affect your plot. I’ve even found that learning about a specific location can spark something in my mind when I’ve got writer’s block.
So how can you make sure you’re getting the most out of your setting if you haven’t been there? Here are a few resources:
· TripAdvisor (https://www.tripadvisor.com/)
Most people probably only use TripAdvisor for planning a vacation, but it can be so much more than that. People write reviews of prominent places and restaurants for what feels like virtually every city on earth! Use those reviews to shape setting and plot -everything from how to describe a certain museum to how that museum being closed on a certain day caused the main characters to get into a fight. Additionally, people also often post their personal photos, so you can explore those to get a feel for the place.
· My blog! (https://anniesullivanauthor.wordpress.com/)
I offer a free service to writers who contact me either through my contact page on my blog or who find me on Twitter (@annsulliva) and ask for help. I have a list of countries that I’ve visited here: http://bit.ly/2cteV0o I’ll do my best to send you whatever photos and information I can.
· Photo Apps
Check out photo sharing websites and apps like Instagram to also see if you can find candid shots of the location (or the locals!) where you’re setting your story.
· Do you know someone who lives there?
Ask relatives, friends, coworkers, and fellow writers if they can put you in touch with a local.
· Google phrases like “What to know before traveling to….”
Searching this will help make you aware of cultural difference that might be different from your own and that may need to be respected and represented in your story. It can be everything from how to act, what to wear, and what hand gestures might be considered obscene. (Pro tip: Don’t give people the thumbs up in many countries outside of the United States.)
· Watch movies set in those locations
Get a feel for what things are around, how people dress, how people get around, and what they might carry with them from watching how it’s depicted on screen.
· Talk to Travel Bloggers
Chances are that travel bloggers have been there, and they’d probably love to tell you about the place in question as long as you reach out to them in a respectful way (and according to how they wish to be contacted, which can often be found on their website.)
· Check government and tourist websites
Government websites can often give you a feel for a country, their laws, and what you’re getting into. But don’t just visit other countries’ websites. Don’t overlook resources like the CDC website which tells you which vaccinations you’ll need if you’re going to certain counties, which could play a big role if your protagonist didn’t get them or if they lost their Malaria pills while in the middle of the jungle! (Side note: Malaria pills can have all sorts of side effects that could also be worked into your plot!)
As you can see, there are many ways you can insert yourself into the scene so that you’ll know what your character might encounter and how that could affect the plot! So go out there and start exploring- whether that’s virtually or physically- so you can truly make your settings come to life.
Connect with Annie . . .
Visit Annie’s blog - https://anniesullivanauthor.wordpress.com/
(Or click here for the post about her free setting advice service)
Follow Annie on Twitter - https://twitter.com/annsulliva
And click here to read about how she got her agent while in Antarctica!