We are often told as writers to write what we know. That’s all well and good but what if you don’t know much? What if you haven’t experienced much? If your life isn’t as exciting or dramatic as you would like your stories to be? Are you doomed? I don’t think so.
The thing is, you have had experiences. An astronomical amount of experiences throughout your life. There have been millions of smells, tastes, sounds, and sensations. All of which made their own little imprint in your mind. You’ve seen and done so many things that if you stick just a fraction of those miniscule details together, you can create quite the mighty tale. The key lies in the math. The addition and subtraction of these tiny bits of experience equal the whole of a unique event. We as writers recognize this when writing any fleshed-out scene. These small details flesh out our real lives in the same way.
This theory is something that I’ve been kicking around for a few years now and has stemmed from my travels since moving to Europe. It’s probably not a new line of thinking but it’s not something I have researched either. I’d done some traveling in the past but living abroad and having so many travel opportunities at my finger tips, opportunities to see famous, extravagant places, has helped me realize that different locations on the map are far more similar than one might think. I’m forever grateful for the travel I’ve done, and while it has helped my writing, it isn’t a necessity. Very few of the small details that surround me as I travel are different than those back home.
A cold rain in New York and a cold rain in Amsterdam feel the same. The smell of loam and pine will greet your nose in an Austrian forest just as it would on a trail in the Rockies. The sound of a waterfall in Croatia is the sound of a waterfall in Hawaii. This of course is comparing like for like, glamorous for glamorous, which is not entirely what I’m talking about. I’m talking about using small ordinary details to build epic scenes no matter where the detail was experienced.
I recently had the chance to travel to Venice, Italy for Carnevale. The trip had been planned for almost a year and we decided to go for the gusto. Here’s a picture of us in full costume.
This was a massive, life-altering trip. Strolling through the gilded, elaborate enclosure of Saint Mark’s Square, dressed as some pagan god and being swarmed by photographers was, on the surface, utterly foreign. It seemed that way to me at first. I had never in my life been in a situation like that, or rather, that specific situation. As I thought about what was actually happening, as I narrowed my focus, I realized that the foreign feeling wasn’t in the details but in how they came together. Ordinary pieces came together to build a something remarkable. (more…)