Location, location – especially in writing

Helga’s Post #12 — I love books about travel. Not only books. Magazine articles, brochures and TV programs about travel, all are fodder in pursuit of my quest. A magnet for my insatiable thirst of adventure. Ever since I read Sindbad the Sailor (in German) in Grade two.

Best of all, I love being the traveler. And that’s what I am at the moment. 35,000 feet in the air en route to Toronto, and then on to another flight to Sao Paulo, and another to Rio de Janeiro.

And that’s just the starting point.

The actual travel started long before the way to the airport. In my head that is. Imagining, visualizing a land not yet familiar. And then there were weeks, no months, of planning, researching, fussing over our itinerary. Which sights are ‘must see’, how to get there, which shoes to wear, finding restaurants where the locals eat and what they eat (no tourist traps for us, no siree!), what about tipping, downloading a foreign exchange calculator, learning how to say greetings, and please and thank you in Spanish and Portuguese. It’s all part of the trip, and for me at least, a thoroughly enjoyable pastime. It adds months to the four-week long trip and endless hours of joyful ‘Vorfreude’ (German for anticipation, or, verbatim, ‘joy before’).

Oddly, this period of anticipation also spilled over to my writing life. Far from being a distraction, it appears to expand my horizon, makes me take risks (my characters are suddenly naughtier, less obedient, my plot takes an unexpected turn) and generally breathes new life into my story. I don’t know why that is. Maybe the sense of adventure that comes from planning an exotic trip releases some barriers in the brain? Something like endorphins after rigorous exercise?

From what my critique group members, friends and sample readers tell me, my writing is best when I use multiple locations and settings. I have never written about a location that I have not visited myself. That includes Tuscany in ‘Taste of the Past’ (my first novel, co-written with my friend Paula), Vienna in ‘Closing Time’, Istanbul, Paris and Marseille in ‘Train Bleu’, and Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines in an aborted draft of a yet unnamed novel which probably will never see the light of day. It’s where I become part of the story. Where I share my characters’ joys and pain.

Much can be said for writing about what you know. We can only glean so much from books and the Internet. Because we can never really get the true feel of a place, its lifeblood. You have to know its sounds at all times of the day, its smells, indoor and outdoors, and the scent of people’s skin so peculiar to us all. And the feel of a handshake or a hug, so different from those we know.

Then there is the light of the sky. Have you been to Provence, where some of the most famous painters flocked to capture that incredible blue on their canvases? harvest-in-provence-by-vincent-van-gogh

But I am rambling. That’s what happens on an Air Canada flight to Toronto when you try anything to pass the time.

To continue on the above thread, what about science fiction, space travel, historical novels, and yes, romance novels (where the writing is based on the author’s wishful thinking and dreams)? The only limit is the author’s panache for world building. It takes huge talent and creative thinking. Hats off to writers who venture into such untested fields. They are the ones who take risks.

For now, I will stick to what I know. I regret that my novel (the online challenge) does not take place where I am heading. It would be such a nice, easy cop-out. Use a travelogue and add some characters. Have them talking a lot among themselves, give them an enemy or two, add a pinch of steamy sex. Throw in a good dose of conflict, a copious amount of danger, and a real mean crucible. If the writing sings, you’ll have a bestseller.

Maybe I’ll use South America in my next novel. Especially those out of the way places that are not yet household words.

Unless I can think of a way to weave those places into my current plot. Which will be a stretch from my current locations – New York, Vancouver, and China. (Curiosity will get you nowhere).

For now, I am prompted by my captain to fasten my seatbelt.

3 thoughts on “Location, location – especially in writing

  1. “Maybe the sense of adventure that comes from planning an exotic trip releases some barriers in the brain? Something like endorphins after rigorous exercise?”

    I think you’re onto something, Helga.

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