Yesterday, Kat talked about travelling to the setting of her contemporary romance and doing research on the spot. I have to agree, there’s nothing like going there, soaking up the atmosphere, and turning that into words – maybe in one’s diary or blog for practice before the words make it onto the page.
I mostly write urban fantasy and science fiction, so it’s not possible for me to physically travel to the Angel Caldera on Paradise 7, or visit the Goblin King’s throne room in the depths of the Cave of Wonders. I have to use my imagination, but I can also find parallels in the real world and explore them through YouTube, Google Images or other tools.
We’re so lucky as writers today to have these internet tools to help us visualize a scene more fully.
If you have trouble with description like me, it’s a useful exercise to write a story or a scene in an environment that you can research fully. My NaNo 2013 project, Little Affair in Greater Tokyo, was a contemporary romance set in modern Tokyo. I’ve been to Tokyo several times, so I could move my characters through the imaginary Tokyo in my head easily. And when I got stuck, I knew enough to find the right YouTube videos (like this one in front of Meiji Shrine) to get me unstuck.
My “oh, wow” moment was when I was looking up the online menu of a grilled chicken restaurant. Not only did I find menu items, but the restaurant showed me what plates they used, the garnishes, even the grain of the tables in the booths. These details had never entered into my imagination, and I realized that when I imagine a scene set on another planet, I need to remember to imagine little details like this. They may not make it into the book, but they anchor the character to a mundane reality, and make the character act in a more real way. Readers of speculative fiction want to see the differences, but they need to relate it to our human experience in the 21st century on earth, as well.
Now that I know my basic story, I want to follow the steps of my characters next time I go to Tokyo, and really immerse myself in the details.
What’s your favorite detail, either in your own work, or someone else’s? The one that springs to my mind is in Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, when Ekaterin opens the letter of apology from Miles. Such rich detailing of the weight of the paper, the roughness, the seal used to close the letter, and the fact that he had touched it with his own hands, sealed it with his own blood in the very traditional Vor way.
Or there’s that moment in Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me when Min surrenders to a bratwurst sandwich. The rush of recognition when she bites into that sausage was dizzying.