How Travel Can Help your Writing

I’ve read plenty of books where the characters stay in one place throughout the entire novel. I’ve written many like that as well. Stories in static places can be great for establishing characters and character dynamics, but how does traveling to relate to a story set in one place?

One of the most important things for an author is the setting of a novel. The setting sets the stage for everything else that is to come, how people interact with each other, and how they react to things. There is the old adage of “write what you know,” but if you only know one place, how can that translate to multiple stories?

Traveling is a great way to open up your horizons for not only locations but cultural and social differences as well. If you have lived in a small town in the south for your whole life, even a trip to a big city can open your eyes to something new and interesting. You don’t even have to go that far to really learn something new.

The farther you do go, however, the more you learn.

In my latest novel, Chasing the Sunrise, my characters take a road trip across the United States, from San Francisco all the way to Memphis, Tennessee. They travel a road I have driven many times before. I’ve driven the I-40 so many times that I know exactly what they’re passing on the road between Albuquerque and Tucumcari (it’s a whole lot of nothing).

Traveling can give you new ideas, new places to write about (diners, stores, people). Traveling is really just an experience to soak in. From Paris to Beijing, there’s something new to see, a new idea planted in your head.

Personally, I’ve lived in five states and three countries, and every time, I learn something unexpected. In Texas, I learned that southerners are not as friendly as I was led to believe (at least not the ones I met). In France, I learned that (in the North anyway), people are very open and friendly even if your French is way worse than it should be after ten years of study.

Using your experiences to your advantage is exactly the thing your writing needs. Yes, write what you know, but write what you want to know as well. Everything that has ever happened to you and every place you have ever visited will come in handy at some point in your writing. Never be afraid to open yourself up to new experiences and visit somewhere new. Odds are, you’ll learn something valuable for later on!

Where are some places you’ve traveled and has it ever helped your writing?

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4 thoughts on “How Travel Can Help your Writing

  1. I actually just finished the first draft of a new “road trip” novel I’m working on. I’m used to writing more literary, character driven pieces so I’ve been struggling with maneuvering the plot around the locations where my character makes stops. When you were writing did you let the setting dictate the plot or did you let the plot dictate the setting? I’m just afraid it will end up reading like a laundry list of locations rather than this adventure I’m trying to create. Do you have any advice for plotting a novel like this?

    • It was kind of both. My novel really is character-driven, so the stops they make all have to do something to either 1) move the story forward or 2) move the characters forward. Details of places and other characters in those places also make a story much more interesting rather than just a bunch of pit-stops along the way. I plotted out my novel and their different stops based on how long it would take for my characters to reach their own realizations about themselves.

  2. So very true! I’ve lived in 7 states and I’ve been to 4 other countries that are all very different from the US. To write well you need to be open minded. To create good characters and good plots, you need to meet and get to know people in other regions and countries. People who are too much alike won’t have interesting conflicts and without the differences you will not have good characters, conflicts or plots – all the ingredients of good stories.

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