· Read and Travel ·
If you write fiction, have you created a place for your characters to hang out?
Writing is a combination of reading, travel, and imagination. Research and fact-checking are crucial.
If you’ve used a travel guide or app, then your readers depend on you, the writer, to be accurate with locations and recommendations.
If you write non-fiction, then consider the impact on others if they follow your advice about exotic tours, five-star restaurants, and comfortable lodging.
Writers have their preferences. You may wish to immerse yourself in a topic before writing your first word, or you may be the type who gushes pages of print before feeling the need to research your own script.
In my novel, Taking Back the Bullet, there’s a bank robbery by a person with schizoaffective disorder, but so far I haven’t robbed a bank or had a mental illness. My other main characters include a cop who is obese, American Indians from the Colville Confederated Tribes Reservation in Washington, a young girl with albinism (and stories of other girls with albinism living in Panama and Tanzania), and a military veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq.
Out of the colorful crew I created, some required considerable research before I could feel comfortable in their skin. For me, an ex-cop, it required less research to write about a bank robbery and it’s investigation than it did to comprehend the time and setting of the San Blas Islands, Panama, during the mid-twentieth century.
I write about the Kagera Region in Tanzania, but I’ve never traveled to Africa. However, I did spend a summer living in Guatemala, C.A. That exposure gave me valuable experience of living outside my culture, an asset when writing about the emotional journey of self-discovery.
I’m also not American Indian (no, I do not claim Cherokee Indian blood from a long-lost great-grandmother who was an Indian princess), but I’ve visited the grave of Nez Perce Chief Joseph on the Colville Reservation in Nespelem, WA; I’ve felt the mist on my face from the Grand Coulee Dam, and I’ve met good and grateful people in the Indian nation.
I know I have a real story once my characters can converse. At that point, I feel like all I need to do is to stay out of their way; I’m the transcriber listening to dialogue.
“Joe,” Carl said, “I enjoy my visits, but I always forget how everything is so close together here. How do you do it? Don’t you miss the open space?”
“We still have the open sky. They can’t take that away,” replied Joe. “But hey, we don’t drive horse trailers to go shopping.”
Those very brief comments from two friends, give the reader a sense that the two go way back and have a variety of shared experiences. They’re American Indians: Joe Morningcloud, living in Prairie Grove, Kansas; and lifelong buddy and reservation resident, Carl Warrior.
Have you traveled in order to research a setting for your writing? Have you met someone who was larger-than-life and who became a character in your story? If so, and you’re willing to share, I’d like to hear from you.
Until next time, happy reading and writing!