Friday, March 29, 2013


I’ve always been interested in exploring places. When I was young, I knew every inch of the areas I was allowed to wander on my own. I grew up in the 60s, so where I was allowed to wander included several blocks in the neighborhood, the way to school, several ways to the public library and quite a far distance that I could reach on my bike. My friends and I knew the best places to play running and ball games and the best spots for imaginative games like secret agents (which needs lots of things to hide behind). I also found great places to think (needed when you’re a member of a large family) and places to write.

I find helpful when creating the locale for a story to walk about the town in your story and see it through your character's eyes. Where are the character's favorite stores? Are there parks or wooded areas? What are landmarks the character might use for knowing how far away the bus is from school or a parent's usual route to the mall? Are there any historical buildings that the character might know or wonder about? Any place the school might use for a field trip?

When walking, would your characters know the best shortcuts (missing the heavily trafficked main streets)? Or, in school, the best escape routes to avoid a bully or the popular crowd? How long does it take the character to go from one place to another?

Have they come across anything of interest? Did he or she observe the squirrel leaf nest overhead? Would they be able to recognize the tracks of rabbits or squirrels?

Fantasy books often have maps, and my books included them as well. I was able to modify the map I used with The Crystal Tree to indicate the changed terrain (from a desert to a flooded plain) in Talking To Trees. Having the map helped me find the best place to put ruins, although it was important for the story that they be able to move.

If you write nonhumans or animals, how would location be noted through their senses? For my wizard Elin, it was through a mixture of vision, scent and taste.

"The Gate should be right here." Elin trotted back and forth, then began a widening circle, studying the landmarks. The stream curled just so, the taste of the long grass was right, but where was the small hill? The scent that he had always associated with the Gate, the mixture of old magic and the overlapping layers of the seal was here, but it was faint, only a trace here and there.

Nowadays when I travel it’s mainly to science fiction and fantasy conventions and I only have time to explore the hotel and where the nice quiet corners are as well as where the panel rooms are located and the vending machines (and do they have Pepsi?). If I have time when I travel I try to sign up for tours. That way I was able to see a bit of Wellington during Au Contraire in New Zealand and some of Melbourne during Aussiecon 4 (Worldcon) in Australia. The picture, however, is from when I was wandering around on my own in Wellington and found the interesting hanging design near the public library. The advantage of tours is that you know what you are seeing. The disadvantage, though, is often you are limited to what others think is important for you to see. Anyone remembering school field trips will understand how frustrating that can often be.

How important is exploration to you? Do you enjoy finding some otherwise small details in stories you read or write?


  1. I write mostly SF, but there's always some element of this world sneaking in, so exploring and paying attention is essential. I reckon writers make the best travelers! (as distinct from tourists)

  2. I never really thought about it consciously, but you're right. When I come up with scenes, what I see in my mind's eye usually involves someplace I've been to, or that I know very well. I'm glad you wrote about it - I'll be more aware of it, now!