Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thursday's Children: Inspired by History - Part 3 - Immersion

In earlier blogs I wrote about world-building and the research needed to create work that effectively evokes another place and time.

Inspired by a fellow Thursday's Children blogger, Kate Frost, I decided to talk about immersion. That is when you actually go to the location you are writing about. The first question is, what's left from the period of your story? If you're really lucky, there will be historic buildings to visit. Some cities and towns even have whole districts that remain mostly untouched. Sometimes you will have to content yourself with ruins or even just open space. But even that minimal experience can work for you. I will explain.

One of my first practice books in my 1890s series involved a old hotel that burned in 1922. Now the site is a ski-area parking lot. Fortunately the land surrounding is part of a state park, a gorgeous one.
My main character is an artist and this spot has long been a destination for them. To experience the site the way my character did meant I had to ignore the sound of traffic. When Emily stayed there, the only sounds were wind in the trees, birds, and horse-drawn carriages arriving. Oh, and the defunct train whistling its arrival.

I spent quite a bit of time wandering around the park during the same calendar month she was there--July. I experienced the weather: temperature, wind, the light, the slant and feel of the sun. The smell of the fresh mountain air. I listened to the birds and identified them. I also identified the weeds and other wild flowers growing along the lakeside path.

I stood in the parking lot where the hotel was and looked at the view. What did she see from her windows?

During this time, I kept a weather diary that recorded daily temps and events, special notes (the sunset was gold and pink). All these details helped me write tactile details into the story.

I urge you to walk in your character's steps. It really makes a difference in bringing a story to life, both as a writer and a reader.

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4 comments:

rhiannwynnnolet.com said...

Yes, I absolutely agree! Which is why so far all my books have been set in New England, particularly in Maine. Descriptive detail shouldn't be "filler" it should be part of a set up to particular events (inner or outer).

Kristina Perez said...

That sounds wonderful. I do a lot of photography so I'm constantly taking photos of anything that catches my eye for scene setting or even fashion/accessories I think I might want to use for my characters. Beware, I'm a secret paparazzi! Thanks for joining us.

Raewyn Hewitt said...

What a wonderful opportunity for research. I write fantasy, but many of the settings are based on places I've visited too. Although I wish now I'd taken more notes / photos.

Chris Allen-Riley said...

Most of my stories are set in Michigan for this very reason. I love immersing myself in a place like this. :)