Posts Tagged ‘experience’

Where to Find Story Ideas: Travel

The world is a fascinating place, Squiders. Every bit of it has its own traditions, its own stories. This can include everything from the urban legends of your hometown to the intricate mythologies to a country halfway around the globe. By traveling, you gain exposure to new places, new ideas, new legends, new experiences.

I’ve gone dog sledding in Alaska, climbed a mountain temple in Japan, camped in the ruins of an Incan city in Peru, hiked through a German forest to a castle that hasn’t ever been captured in its 800-year history, stumbled through the catacombs of “Hamlet’s Castle,” touched the stones at Stonehenge.

Travel can be one of the best ways to open your mind to new ideas to use for stories. It allows you to see and experience new things that you can then apply. You can see how other people live, what other cultures believe. You can go new places and see how they work.

This isn’t just true when visiting other countries, though that might be the most extreme example. You can learn things by visiting the historical and cultural landmarks in your area, by going a few major towns over and seeing what remains the same and what changes. And even going out into nature can be beneficial in the same manner. In fact, many authors routinely hike in order to gain inspiration, and some even compose their stories out in the wild.

WARNING: Unfortunately, we can’t really talk about using traveling for ideas without also discussing the idea of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is a sensitive topic, and many people have strong feelings on different sides of the issue. At its core, cultural appropriation is whenever someone takes elements from another culture and claims them as their own. It is mostly applied to a majority (white people) taking elements from minority cultures, which can be done in a superficial or disrespectful manner, with the original meanings being lost or distorted.

This can be a bit of a gray area for fiction writers, who routinely portray people who are not like themselves in places they are not from, doing things they have never done. It is probably best to use specific things, such as legends and mythology, as inspiration rather than trying to stay close to the original. And remember to treat your sources of inspiration with respect, rather than using them for shock value.

Still, outside of the topic of learning about other cultures and their stories, there’s the simple fact that by traveling, by trying new things, you add to your own experiences, which you can then use to give better life to your stories. A person who has never ridden a horse has a harder time explaining the gait under their character’s saddle, doesn’t quite understand the way your body aches when you climb off. Someone who has never stood on a beach doesn’t know how the breeze blows your hair around or how bright and clear the sky gets.

Yes, you can pick up quite a bit from other media–television, movies, books–but there’s no guarantee that you’re not picking up stereotypes which, in some cases, may be incorrect or misleading. And there’s something to be said to being able to put a more personal spin on things, to separate it from the same ol’ same ol’ everyone sees everywhere else.

What do you think, squiders? Have you used your travels as an inspiration? Do you find a certain type of trip or place tends to whet your creative whistle more than others?

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How Reading Order Influences

So, last weekend, I was talking to a random person about scifi and fantasy authors, comparing things we’d read and suggesting new people and the like, and we had the following exchange.

Guy> Oh, {author} is like Philip K. Dick.

Kit> Ah! I like Philip K. Dick.

Guy> I find him highly derivative.

Kit> Really?

And he went on to say that he’d started with a lot of science fiction from the 1910s and 20s, which were a major influence on Philip K. Dick. Whereas Philip K. Dick was some of the first short scifi I read, so it read more original to me.

And that got me to thinking–each of us are directly influenced by the order we consume media in. The fact of the matter is that a lot of books (TV shows, movies, comics, etc.) are similar to other books (…etc.). And our perception of what came first or what is derived from something else is often directly based on the order we consume things in.

Let’s look at Power Rangers and Voltron, for example. Both involve a team of people who wear color-coded jumpsuits. Both involve aliens and robots and swords. Voltron technically came first, being an anime released in the mid-80s, but if you were a kid who watched Power Rangers and then found Voltron later, you’d say to yourself, “Oh, this is just like Power Rangers.” Never mind that it’s the other way around. You found Power Rangers first, and so Voltron seems derivative, even if intellectually you know it came first.

Another example of this is when some novel gets big and attracts readers that don’t normally read that genre. You get a ton of people who heap praises on that novel without knowing that it’s standard (or, in some cases, substandard) for that genre of novel. I’m going to use the Hunger Games as an example here. (Now, to clarify, I liked the first two books–and I think we talked about why the third was bad here, but if not, I will,  but it’s a good example of people reading genres they don’t normally.) I think we can all agree that the Hunger Games as a series brings nothing new to the dystopia genre. Yet, for people who were new to the genre and its tropes, it was amazing.

So, sure, you can sit there and say “Well, Battle Royale did the kids killing other kids thing first” but for people who started with the Hunger Games, that doesn’t matter. They didn’t experience things in that order.

What do you think, Squiders? Do you agree with me? Do you find that you compare things to what you experienced first, or are you able to separate things out intellectually?