One of the things I’ve really enjoyed doing this past week with the Wordsmith is just exploring the world. It’s one thing to sit at home, with Google search at your fingertips, and Wikipedia at your beck and call, it’s another to actually just _go_ places to see them with your own eyes.
Despite having a laptop computer that I do all of my writing on, I still carry a notebook with me anywhere I go, whenever I can’t bring the laptop; it is full of hastily scribbled ideas, notes on things I’ve found, and sketches of fanciful things, along with phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and outlines of novels and short stories yet to be. I try not to miss a chance to write down an awesome idea, lest I forget it by the time I get home.
Anything and everything you see can be put into a novel somehow. From the most ordinary objects to the breathtakingly beautiful (or incredibly tacky), to little bits of trivia and history tucked away in corners of the world that don’t always advertise themselves very well.
Then there are those chance events that you encounter in your journeys; live people doing the unexpected, fellow storytellers able and willing to swap stories, and moments of serendipity — there is no other word for it sometimes.
None of these things will likely happen to you if you remain in your ‘writing space’, content to see the world only through someone else’s eyes. Text and photos on a web page do not do some things justice.
But is it necessary, you may ask, to go travel anywhere where you plan on doing things on location? Some of the greatest writers believed so. While you don’t absolutely have to take a one month vacation to Borneo to write about it, you can’t go wrong with choosing to make your next vacation a writing excercise anyway, wherever it might be.
The world is about textures, smells, feelings, sounds, and local foods you can’t get at home. It’s unusual happenstances that required the unique combination of ‘right time’, ‘right place’ or occasionally ‘wrong time, wrong place’. Even unpleasant experiences can be rewarding in their own right — if you survive.
Moments of serendipity are the lifeblood of any adventure novel, no matter what the genre you might be writing in, you can adapt the reality to fit the unreality.
For example, Wordsmith and I visited a museum that had a lot of gold rush mining exhibits and other artifacts of the 1850’s. A stained glass window of St. Patrick rescued from a demolished church is destined to find a home somewhere; its sister window had a pair of ornate keys in its display that definitely will become part of a mystery novel. Meanwhile, the high-pressure hydraulic mining nozzle outside will have a place in a science fiction novel for futuristic mining purposes, while the docent’s recounting of what water wagons (and also where the origin of the phrase ‘on the wagon’ came from) will likely come in handy in our next steampunk novels, perhaps.
All of this came from a single day, a single ‘hey, what about this place’ and a journey that started by asking not just ‘what if…’ but also ‘when.’
Not all of us are so lucky to have a traveling partner, or a mentor, or a means to get away from it all to see things that are, in fact, ‘away’. But the truth of the matter is that anyplace that is ‘out’ is some smaller or larger degree of ‘away’.
And every ‘away’ game makes you a visitor in places that are at least passing strange, near or far.
So take a journey, and have a listen. Maybe stay awhile and make some new friends. I ran out of business cards today, letting people know I appreciated their time that they shared with me, and offering up a bit more of mine if they ever found a need to share another story.
Don’t just cultivate memories in photos you rarely look at again. Choose to experience people, places, and things, and tell their story, no matter how imperfectly reproduced or turned into a variation on the theme, and you’ll start understanding that everything you do is a story of its own. To bastardize a quote from The Lion King:
“Everything your life touches is your realm — of personal experience, that is. You just have to learn how to be king of it all.”