(Today’s post is a guest article from Sybil Baker. I just picked up her book, The Life Plan, last night, and am hooked–it’s the characters that get you immediately!)
Much of my novel The Life Plan takes place in Thailand, a country I visited four or five times from 1997-2002. I moved to South Korea in 1995 and was still living there when I began the first tentative chapters of The Life Plan in late 2004. Because I’d lived abroad for so long, it seemed natural for me to base my novel outside of the States.
If you are interested in crafting a novel based on your travels I do have a few tips to make your project successful.
· Remember, your book is a novel, not a travel guide. While your novel can have elements that might be similar to a travel guide, people will want to read your book because of the plot, language, and characters. While the setting can help further plot, illuminate characters, and heighten conflict, the main focus of your draft should be telling the best story you can. For example, in The Life Plan even though readers get to see a lot of Thailand through Kat, the story is what I hope keeps the reader turning the page.
· Don’t editorialize about the places your travel to too much. Whether you loved the place you want to set your novel in or hated it, try to let the place speak through the images and sensory in your novel and let the readers decide what they think. I love Thailand but my main character, Kat, doesn’t like the country at first. Because the novel was written in first person, I tried to make it clear that the impressions of Thailand were Kat’s and were just one tourist’s view of the country.
· Don’t be afraid to research. Although I had a lot of great memories of Thailand, there were also some gaps in my knowledge. I wrote about some places I had not been to and other places where my memories had become diluted. I researched parts of the novel using guidebooks, interviewing friends, and of course the trusty internet. There’s nothing wrong with supplementing your memories and experiences with solid research.
· Use all of your senses to describe the places you’ve been. Check your draft and make sure that you incorporate all the senses, not just sight, when describing places. The scene will become much more alive and believable.
· You don’t have to go half way around the world to think you have a subject worthy of travel writing. The novel I’m currently revising takes place in Washington, DC; Williamsburg, Virginia’ and LA, and one of the focuses of the plot is the differences between the three places.
· Finally, before you begin your first draft, ask yourself, what kind of novel am I writing? Is it a road trip novel, (a la Kerouac’s On The Road), a self-discovery novel (like the memoir Eat, Pray, Love), or a hero’s quest/journey (as discussed by Joseph Campell). Knowing what type of novel you are writing will help you determine how place and travel fit in with the story and what role they play.
Have fun while you’re traveling, be open to how the experience might shape your writing, and enjoy writing the draft!