Thursday, March 7, 2013

Writing Advice - Leave Home


This blog is about improving your writing by interacting with the world while you travel. I met a wonderful author who perfectly expresses this idea.

Scott D. Southard, the author of A Jane Austen Daydream (coming in April 2013 from Madison Street Publishing) and other books offers these words of travel wisdom:  

We writers are isolationists, introverts. How else do you explain the fact we spend our time alone creating friends and worlds?  We are not made for the outside; we’d rather stay inside, thank you very much.

When I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree, as much as I cared about the degree, I was more interested in something else. It was always my dream to be that young traveler/writer by himself going through Europe, with nothing but a notepad and a few paperbacks in a bag. I saw myself sitting under trees in Jane Austen's garden, opening my soul to the romantic poets, or wandering the halls of Charles Dickens’ home hoping for a message from beyond. I even sometimes thought about smoking a pipe (I didn’t, but wouldn’t it look cool?)
What I actually experienced though really was not at all what I expected. The rude awakening of being thrown out of my “universe,” my norm; well, I had to adjust for that in a major way.
There were no little safe places to go, like I could when I wanted to write or just read at home; here everything was new and different (as well as the people around) and for an introvert it can make one’s hair stand on the back of one’s neck… permanently.
Still, I know that this experience made me a better writer. I look at what I did before I went on that six-week trip and what I did later and I see a more imaginative, more creative, more introspective, and more worldly writer.
So fellow writers, here is why, I think, you need to break out… Yes, I am telling you to step away from the keyboard and the soft couch. (Don’t worry they’ll be there when you get back.) Here are just three reason why:
Art by Wes McBride
Your Characters Will Thank You
One advice I always give new writers is to go out and listen to people. I still stand by that advice, because you catch things in delivery, expression, accent, that can find their way into your own characters. And while we introverts are happy with the friends we have (after choosing them wisely over many years), you miss out on what this can do for your characters.
The fact is I can always tell a writer who doesn’t get out, because, frankly, all of their characters sound like the writer in front of me. And, sometimes, more humorously, I can tell when they went to TV for inspiration. How? Because their characters have extremes.
They have extreme emotions, feelings, and even political views (I always imagine these writer spend too much time listening to pundits on news shows; people that are paid to have a certain opinion, in other words, being nothing more than a megaphone for a cause). The fact is we human beings are not extremes, typically; what makes us human is our subtleties, and more interesting, our contradictions (Character advice 101: Create a contradiction, not only does it make a character human, it shows growth when they change or grow with their contradiction into a new opinion).
One thing stay-at-home writers can be guilty of is the creation of stereotypes. I don’t want to begin to count the many times I have seen this in a new writer’s work. The fact is many times writers don’t see it that way, because they don’t realize there are so, so many different kinds of stereotypes out there. But the thing is whenever you use a stereotype (no matter how unique or rare) you are insulting someone, somewhere. And, really, you don’t want to be that kind of a writer. NO ONE wants to be that kind of a writer.
Going to Europe for me was great because not only did I meet people from other countries, but I was able to meet fellow students from America that were from different states. It expanded my world and filled it with real breathing people. And hearing other opinions, other experiences, other norms influenced and expanded (I use this word a lot) the characters I went on to create.
Art by Wes McBride
Your Locations Will Be More Real

Writers typically don't do frat parties and raves. We are the ones at home, with a few friends maybe and a few drinks, discussing movies. Yet, how are writers expected to realistically write about such events if they have never attended one before?

Here let me give you a more real world example: Let's say you want to write about the Tower of London. Yes, you can look it up on Wikipedia or Google and get the facts (what it is built out of, how long ago, how tall it is, it's history), and those are a good starting point on the page, but consider all you miss by not visiting the location. For example:
  • Does it have a smell?
  • How do the other tourist look? Act?
  • What do you hear people saying around you?
  • Touch the walls, how do they feel?
  • Breathe the air, does it have a taste?
  • Spiritually, do you feel the history there? What is impacting you on a deeper level?

These little touches may seem trite (and maybe they are) but they are the difference between just describing a location and really making the audience feel like they are there with a character. And locations, like characters should feel alive. Remember, Hogwarts is as much a character in the Harry Potter series as Harry, Ron, and Hermione. 

Another thing to consider, why not reach out to a resident or expert on the location before going or upon arriving? It may help make a place real, by seeing all sides of it (not just what the tour groups may want you to see). In other words, it could make it that much more real to you, and to your readers.
Art by Wes McBride
You Will Get That Voice
So why did I begin with my story about traveling to Europe by myself? Frankly, it is because what I came back with, more than anything, was my voice.
First, by taking myself out of my norm, having to find my own strength and survive, gave me confidence. That confidence led to my own voice emerging. I do not hide behind another’s work or style or a teacher’s lesson; I can stand with my writing. If you are a strong confident writer, you don’t even need this essay (but I would recommend you keep reading).
Second, by speaking to people outside my home region I learned different speech patterns, pacing. We all have our own distinct meter in our voice and by speaking to others from around the world, it is like being introduced to other forms of music. And those patterns (Or as I like to think of it, possibilities), found their way not only into future characters but expanded the possibility of my own voice. You are like a method actor studying an accent, enjoy the thrill of it.
The best way to think of all of these points I made is that you are a painter. Where you are right now, your colors are limited; but the more you explore, the more you meet people, your color palette expands with each new experience. You need more color. That’s assuming you want to paint something great.
If you truly want to do more than write about your life right now (and the things and people around you), you need to find opportunities to breath in the fresh air of this planet around you.
The world is that a way!
Scott D. Southard, the author of A Jane Austen Daydream (coming in April 2013 from Madison Street Publishing), swears he is not obsessed with Jane Austen. He is, however, also the author of the award-winning novels, My Problem With Doors and Megan. Scott can be found on the internet via his writing blog "The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard" (http://sdsouthard.com) where he writes on topics ranging from writing, art, books, TV, writing, parenting, life, movies, and writing.






4 comments:

  1. It's true. We tend to be isolationists, but we are also observers and, well, the best writers are experiencers. I've decided that should be a word.
    Nice article.

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  2. This was a nice article. On the one hand, yes, I think writers tend to be introverted. On the other...nothing about introversion means staying home. I think world travel is important for everyone--but maybe writers can take something special from it that others may not.

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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