I’ve gotten into a bad habit on the weekends, namely: doing stuff. My husband has said I need to quit it, and sit home and relax. He’s right, but that doesn’t change the fact that I work five days a week, which leaves two to do things in. Like writing, although that’s not usually what I’m doing, and it definitely isn’t what I’m doing this weekend.
This weekend I’m traveling all over Kentucky with my Mom, and two of my kids. We’re looking at houses for Mom, I am conducting research, and the kids are having a broadening experience (translated: bored stiff and playing games on electronic devices in the backseat). On the first leg Mom and I chatted about a number of topics, but I thought a couple were relevant to writers.
Traveling for research is one. I’ve been to KY often enough, but on this trip we’re in areas unknown to me. For a change I’m not driving, so I can watch the scenery go by and get a feel for the region, at least until it got dark. But traveling through an area where you’ve set a book is an excellent idea. Deeper research is even better. The internet allows us to virtually explore, but there’s no real substitute for going somewhere and seeing it up close. The first leg was an overview from interstates and highways, tomorrow we’ll be on tiny back roads for hours. And checking out old houses which is an adventure of a different flavor.
I’d not say that you must visit an area to set a book there. I do think, as Mom and I talked about how much traveling we’ve done (multiple cross-country road trips, travel up the Alaska highway, and others) and where we’d still like to go, that traveling for research is vital to adding little details you might otherwise overlook. Of course, interplanetary travel isn’t possible yet, but seeing more locales on Earth make you better able to write a world with a realistic and varied biome. If you never leave home, you just don’t think about how big our world really is.
We passed a sign for the Lincoln Homestead and started talking about pioneers, what they endure, and tracing some of their paths can inspire not only stories set in the past, but what our future wave of pioneering to the stars might feel like. I talked about seeing a cabin where Dan’l Boone had wintered, with four or five other trappers, and how tiny it was – maybe ten by twelve. She in turn talked about seeing a winter camp in Alaska of a party on their way to the Gold Rush who had been wintered in, a hundred people, families and all, who hastily constructed several ten by twelve cabins and crowded in then to endure the deep cold. The cabins, erected in the 1880s, still stood when she was a girl, their roofs fallen in but otherwise intact. I have trouble imagining months stuck in a single room with several people… Even family!
Getting out and seeing for ourselves is the best way for a writer to create, taking all the odds and ends and blending them up into something new and beautiful. Plus, you can write off research traveling!