How Travel Can Inspire Your Fiction in New Ways
By Alex Schnee
The first manuscript I finished, Shakespeare’s Lady, was based entirely off research and imagination. I didn’t have the opportunity to visit some of the locations that took place in the novel, and so I had to conjure the relationship between Emilia Lanier Bassano and William Shakespeare within my own mind and what I had read.
It wasn’t until I was a little older and I visited the city of Venice on a study abroad trip that I realized how much I had missed by not making the journey to England for my first book. I had three months to immerse myself in the twists and turns of the Venetian alleyways, and I still remember the feel of the ever-present salt air on my skin as I walked from one end of the island to the other—and the taste of Italy’s sinful gelato.
From that experience, I was able to draw on a whole new palette of emotions and senses that would have been impossible to know if I hadn’t visited Italy. My third book, (currently titled) Your Most Devoted Friend, Henriette, feels richer to me in some ways than my other books—mostly because I had been to the locations where the book was set.
Which isn’t to say you can’t write a wonderful manuscript based off imagination and research. Some of my favorite stories are the products of their creators’ minds, and it is their unique perspective that I look for instead of strict historical fact or wrote descriptions. The fantasy and science fiction genres would not exist if storytelling was entirely based on real experiences, and the creation of the mind is a powerful thing.
For me as a writer, however, I feel enriched when I visit the locations where my fiction takes place, and I feel a deeper connection and understanding of my characters’ motives. Environment can shape a person to an incredible degree, and I have an easier time describing the small details that make fiction come to life when I have been to a certain place and have seen it for myself.
I was fortunate enough to visit London and Stratford after I graduated university, which was a dream-come-true for a Shakespeare lover. While almost all of the facts that I had incorporated into my book were true, I found that the details which really could have brought the story to life were missing because I hadn’t see the Globe and Shakespeare’s home with my own eyes. This is a big reason why I am looking forward to releasing a revised copy of Shakespeare’s Lady, so I can hope to bring the story to life in a way I couldn’t before visiting in person.
Not everyone can travel the world or jet off to the exotic destinations where their fiction is set, but you can often get the same affect from stepping away from the keyboard and getting outside, trying a meal from the place you are writing about, or turning on some good music. Inspiration comes in many forms, not just travel. But for many, including Mark Twain, Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, and countless others, travel has added authenticity that would be difficult to reproduce without wandering.