Recently, I spent several weeks in the United Arab Emirates, Dubai specifically. There was a sandy hot world very different from the Texas Gulf Coast world that I regularly inhabit. Loud speakers calling for prayers, hijabs everywhere, and an emerging culture that is on the one hand progressive and forward thinking while on the other hand still maintaining that air of the highly restrictive and largely secretive.
And, as always, as I take in new and different sights, sounds, smells and tastes, I try and relate my experiences to writing. That happened one sunny, very hot afternoon when I was relaxing with some “flotation therapy” in the hotel rooftop swimming pool. As I bobbed in the water, I contemplated my current WIP. I was attempting to look at my story through the lens of a foreign place and foreign people.
When I read a story, I enjoy being whisked away to worlds I might never experience. Even more, I vastly enjoy reading about the people who inhabit those fantastical worlds. Some of you may know I write fantasy, so it certainly stands to reason that every story I read takes me somewhere brand new and introduces me to people who live lives far removed from my own.
And yet, the same could said about the various Historical genres (Jean M. Auel, Zane Grey, Diana Gabaldon). What compels me is painstaking research about how the world turned back in whatever period I’m currently visiting and, more so, how ordinary people navigated those times and those circumstances, ideally with extraordinary consequences.
However, I have also found that even in contemporary stories, whether they be Romance or Suspense or Mystery, a good author can offer glimpses into worlds and lives I would never ordinarily see. And that author doesn’t even have to leave the United States in order to explore these diversities of culture. What is it like to grow up in Appalachia? A Maine fishing town? The mesas of Arizona? What jobs do people hold in those areas? How do their cultural norms differ from what I have come to know?
Yes, yes. All very fine and good, but what does any of this have to do with my own WIP? As I floated in that rooftop pool, smack dab in the middle of Dubai, I thought it’s all about finding the words and the sentiments that convey the curiosity and wonder, the discomfort and fear of experiencing a new place, meeting new people, and challenging our accepted modes of behavior.
This can be accomplished by careful and deliberate use of speech patterns, word choice, and setting details. If you find the words “Y’all” or “Lass” you are likely reading about Texas or the Scottish Highlands. The world of high fashion would painstakingly describe the fold and shimmer of Mulberry Silk, but would hardly notice impending weather. The same could not be said for a Mid-West farm family. The rise and colors of the majestic buttes of Montana’s Mesa Verde would be described and paced far differently that the bustle and shouts found in Seattle’s Pike Place Market where fishmongers throw fish at visitors.
As you make an editor’s pass at your WIP, in whatever draft, take the time to look for such attention to detail. Trust comments from your Beta readers where they say the story falls a bit flat. Have you perhaps missed an opportunity to up the WOW factor that comes from taking your readers to foreign places and meeting foreign people?
Lorinda Peake wrote her first ditty when she was ten on an English seashore while visiting her British grandmother. From then on, her family either acted in or were treated to plays, skits, or commercial spoofs. In school, she wrote poetry, fables and short stories.
Years later, she tossed down a particularly bad novel and thought, “I could do at least that well.” She’s been pursuing the elusive published novel ever since. Recently, she joined a group of fellow writers who decided to cajole, bully, encourage, and sometimes baby each other along towards the publishing goal by setting real and measurable writing objectives with “motivational” consequences for non-attainment.
Lorinda loves a good romance – all the more if it is wrapped in a great fantasy setting. She lives on the Texas Gulf Coast with her husband of 34 years.