Will Travel For Words: Plan. Travel. Write. by Karen A. Chase
It recently occurred to me that the way people plan their vacations is very similar to the way authors plan their books; it’s different for everyone.
My dear friend Leslie and I are each traveling to Italy in September (I know, so fun right?!). We’re not going together, and our paths won’t cross while we’re there, but in the meantime we’re sharing our plans. Like novelists, we both had an idea of where we wanted to go. Someplace that afforded a different way of life, that wasn’t in political peril, and in a region we had not been before. So Leslie is heading south in Italy, and I’m heading north through Milan and the Lake District. About a month ago, around the same week, we each booked our flights. That is exactly when our planning ceased to be the same.
Leslie has approached her trip, like some novelists I know, developing a comprehensive outline first. All the beginning, middle and end points are planned, so they’re comfortable with all the points in between. Leslie, as of today, has all of her accommodations and transportation arranged. She knows where she and her family will stay, and how they’ll get from place-to-place. She told me last week that she’s relieved to know where her bed will be and now she’s ready to look into making it. So now she is researching what there is to do in each of those locations.
My approach to travel planning is similar to my process for writing my historical novel. I have a beginning and end (the plane tickets to and from), and the basic plot (a few days in Cinque Terre with friends to celebrate Ted’s birthday, then north into Italy for two weeks). But unlike Leslie, I have not booked a single place to sleep and I have no clue how to get from place-to-place. Why? I can’t outline where to go until I have researched what there is to do. What if I book three nights in Milan only to discover that there will be a huge festival the day before I’m to arrive? I’d kick myself for missing it, or I’d have to shuffle the whole itinerary again. I have to know before I go.
The same goes for my writing. I wondered if my protagonist in my American Revolution novel could travel through Richmond, because I live here now. But was there anything that would add meaning to his journey? Is there someone here he must see, some event he must participate in? The answer turned out to be no, so Richmond is not in the outline. I guess in a way, I follow the advice of Arthur Conan Doyle’s character, Sherlock Holmes when he says, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
Does that mean my way of planning is better than Leslie’s? No. Does it mean that an author who outlines the whole book can’t make adjustments? Or that authors like me who research first, can’t eventually make detailed outlines? Not at all. Different doesn’t mean wrong. It means different, and it helps make the trip more enjoyable and worthwhile to follow what works best for you. If I were to write my novel the way Leslie plans trips, it would feel unnatural, I’d panic, I’d constantly be rewriting, and I suspect that would be reflected in the story, too.
That being said, I think Leslie and I would agree on some points, as would most authors. Within our plans, however we arrive at them, we will relish in the happy accidents that come along–those unpredictable discoveries that make trips (and stories) memorable. Writing a novel, like long a journey, involves a sense of adventure, a willingness to try new things and being content with occasionally being uncomfortable.
For those reasons, when I’m on holiday, when I’m writing, and even when I travel for words, I will absolutely follow Hemingway’s advice… “Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.”
Follow my trip to Italy right here at Shelf Pleasure. Next month I’ll share some of my more finalized plans, and then you can come with me in posts about the trip. After all, I will travel for words. Ciao until next time.
Karen A. Chase is a regular contributor to Shelf Pleasure, sharing journeys near and far in the pursuit of stories and novels in her monthly feature, Will Travel for Words. She is the author of Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log, winner of seven Independent Book Publishing Awards for travel and design. She is currently working on an historical novel set during the American Revolution. Find Karen on Facebook, or on Twitter.
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