Travel and Experience Vs Imagination

What do you do if you’re writing a story that’s based in a place you’ve never been? I guess you could just make up a place – a town that doesn’t actually exist or (with fantasy) a world that doesn’t exist. Really, that would solve all your problems but what if you want to put it in a real place?

Do you do a butt load of research online and with books? Is that enough? Looking at pictures on the internet, reading descriptions in travel guides, etc. The best thing would be if we all had an unlimited amount of money and could travel to the location so we could experience it firsthand.

I mean, even if you know Japan is sweltering during the summer, could you properly imagine what it feels like to have sweat trickling down your back as you kneel, your legs slowly going numb underneath you? Concentrating on the buzz of the hypnotic chant of the Buddhist monks, a fly lands on your sweat-slicked arm. It tickles the delicate hairs, exploring the scent of wet salt mixed with your skin’s natural fragrance, but you don’t bat it away. Your muscles stay still beneath the fly’s wandering legs as your mind floats along the current of the unceasing flow of foreign words.

When I was in college I would set my stories in places I found fascinating but had never been to. But after traveling and experiencing the things I was only writing about I realized you can’t really know it till you’ve done it.

You can’t fully imagine the leg-quaking terror of nearly falling off a mountain unless you’ve done it. Time slowing down, body clumsy and refusing to find that foothold as it loses its fight against gravity. Your heart pounds and your voice sounds far-away as you watch the ground running out, helpless to stop it despite your legs scrambling for a hold on every clump of dirt and grass.

And then it’s done. You’ve stopped.

Hands help you to your feet, asking you repeatedly if you’re all right. You reply that you are but your smile and laugh are too high pitched and wild from that touch of adrenaline-fueled hysteria. You walk back up the mountain, your body betraying you every second as it trembles. Fighting against your own nerves, telling yourself you’ve now experienced the worst-case scenario and lived to tell about it, you give the nod to begin again. This time as you and your instructor head toward the edge, the wind is your ally and you soar.

Really. You should experience life before you write about it.

Do you use real-life experiences in your writing? Where would you travel and what would you do if you could go anywhere and do anything?


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