Sunday, February 3, 2013

Arm Chair Traveling for Research

Today I will be your tour guide. Please locate your favorite chair and buckle your seat belts. You will find emergency exits to your right and left. Lavatories are located behind your vehicle. Please extinguish all background noises, and find your reading glasses. I hope you enjoy your trip!

I always find that a book is more interesting if it includes travel or an exotic main location. Doing research for far away places can be difficult if you have never been there, or you lack the funds to visit every location.

Here are a few tips I use for my Arm Chair Traveling Research: 

Travel to your local library and escape into the travel book section.

Find out if the library has the books for the location you need, and check out every travel book, history book, or even fiction books about the location you need.

Find maps of your chosen location. Maps will give you directional orientation when you're trying to get your characters from that small village on the coast to the metropolis in the middle of the country. Maps are also good quick references for place names, streets, landmarks, etc. Libraries, the Internet, used bookstores, even thrift stores are good sources for street maps, country maps, etc.

Learn a foreign language. 
You don't have to spend 1000s of hours to learn the local language of your location. Pick up a phrase book, even if it is outdated, and strategically toss a few native phrases into your story. Chances are your readers don't know the language, and it will add flavor. If your readers do know the language, then the phrases will be common enough that you won't offend. 

Language dictionaries are also excellent research tools. A word scattered here and there throughout the dialogue adds just enough spice to allow your readers to escape with you. I can't go on enough about the usefulness of phrase books and language dictionaries. They have provided me with countless names, flavor for dialogue, or even bases for made up languages that I've needed for some fantasy stories. For dictionaries right now, I have German, Japanese, Spanish, an old Greek phrase book and an ancient Italian. I really need to add some more.

Used bookstores are excellent sources for travel magazines, books, language dictionaries, etc. If you need to keep your books so you can dogear them, take notes, or just keep for future research, used bookstores are your jackpot.

Watch travel shows.
Even if the show is not about the location of your current story, take notes for future stories. Libraries are good sources for travel shows as well, and you'll probably be able to check out the episodes for your chosen location.

Southshore Marina, Milwaukee, WI
Go for a walk. 
Take your camera and take pictures of things locally that are similar to your exotic location. For example, I am writing a story that takes place near the ocean. I live near Lake Michigan which has several marinas and is large enough to seem like an ocean. Photos of the beaches, marinas, boats, etc., help with the descriptions and mood setting. Add temperatures and weather accurate for your exotic locale, and *boom* you've just transported your readers to a beach in Greece.

 Watch movies. 
Choose drama, comedy, historical; whatever works and takes place in your chosen setting.  It gives you the fictional flavor to contrast against the travel shows, and might even inspire some McGuffins for your story along the way.

Never heard of a McGuffin? Watch for a future blog post where I will attempt to explain a McGuffin. 

Do you use other methods when you just can't afford that Mediterranean cruise, or that resort on the French Riviera? Maybe it's just a country estate ala Downton Abbey. Whatever you use to do your arm chair travel research, I would love to hear about it!   Please leave a comment below and pass on the travel tips. Thanks!

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