Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Travel Writing and Fiction

Tips for Choosing Story Locations

This week we’ll be having a look at another aspect of travel writing; the art of incorporating it into fiction. The setting of a story is important as it forms the backdrop for, and influences the action. If you are setting a full length novel in a different country or area, it is difficult to do so without being completely familiar with the place

Best Seller Examples
Many top authors set their stories in foreign destinations. Good examples to read are the books by Beverley Lewis. She writes about the Amish and describes Pennsylvania in rich detail. John Grisham brings Brazil to life in The Testament, and Italy in Playing for Pizza. Robin Cook’s 2008 release, Foreign Body, is set largely in India and his descriptions are vivid and memorable. Richard Paul Evans tells a compelling story of Peru through The Sunflower.

Introduce a Cameo Location
Setting one or two chapters in a foreign location can add interest without demanding extensive knowledge of an area. To give an example, you could have a character in transit in an airport or visiting a different city on a business trip. I have been through Changi Airport in Singapore three times, one of the visits, a five hour layover. I used this time to explore the airport, pick up brochures and take photos. I haven’t used the information in a story yet but the potential is there.

Seize Opportunities to Learn about Areas
Visiting different settings brings interest and personal enlargement. It is possible to do this, even in your home town. Have you ever viewed your town or city through tourist eyes? Set a day apart and go and visit some natural attractions or a museum or an amusement park.

My husband got called out last Saturday night at 10pm. (He works as a mechanic for a tour bus company in New Zealand) The job was to take a bus down to Mount Cook and bring back a damaged one. Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand (12,139 feet) and a major tourist attraction. I love traveling and often accompany Kevin on these trips but I was recovering from surgery to extract a broken tooth and my jaw was aching. “I think you should stay home.” he said. “You’ve got sixty seconds to decide.” After fifty seconds, I threw some things in a bag, swallowed some pain pills and followed him downstairs. I sensed an opportunity and I seized it.

Consider the Season and Time of Day
If you are writing about an area, research how it looks in different seasons and times of day. Weather and lighting can bring about great transformations. Going back to my impromptu trip, I have visited Mount Cook before but it was a completely different journey at night. On the way, we passed Lake Tekapo which is a massive turquoise lake with waters fed from melting glaciers and snow. I’d heard the area was renowned for some of the best night-sky views in the world and looking out the bus window at midnight, I was amazed. The sky was thickly clustered with silvery trails of stars. It’s one of those things you have to experience to understand.

We arrived at Mount Cook at 2am, Sunday morning. The village itself is tiny and the area unspoilt and unpopulated. Even knowing that, we were surprised when we looked out our hotel room the next morning. Mount Cook lay before us, draped with cloud and touched with early morning sun. I would have traveled the distance, just to see that.

Practise Travel Writing in Fiction has a weekly writing challenge on set topics. The theme this quarter is countries and continents. The story I entered last week for Australia/New Zealand placed first overall and one comment was that it sounded authentic – as though I were familiar with the area. I have in fact visited all the places I mentioned and found it easy to weave them into my story. You’re welcome to have a read and why not enter the challenge yourself? It’s great fun and good writing exercise.

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Read some of her work at Suite 101 and Faithwriters.

post signature

1 comment:

Tracy Ruckman said...

Awesome article. I LOVE a strong setting in a novel, and find that "generic" settings (the action could take place anywhere) bore me greatly.

I also love distant lands, and find it strange that yes, many others agree with me, but publishers (U.S. publishers anyway) are reluctant to publish books from new writers with foreign settings. Not sure why.

I, too, love to travel, and use most of my destinations in my novels. In fact, many times, visiting a new place usually triggers a new book idea!

Thanks for a great article!