Writers are often asked how a story is born. Did they have a dream? Did the clouds part and angels sing? Did Antonio Banderas knock on the door and deliver a parcel of ideas (oh, how I wish he would)? Ultimately, most writers would say it’s the miniscule details woven into a tale that gives it authenticity – those fine points breathe life into a story and transport readers into another realm.
I have two worlds – one is real-life and the other is in my head. How much time is spent in either depends on where I’m at with my novel and my real-world demands. But when I do write, it’s to create my own reality. I’m not saying the gun-wielding bad guy in my books is me (I’m more like Calamity Jane than Dirty Harry), but it’s the teensy details that make up the big picture. And every now and again I need to come back from the land of my novel to draw upon facts to help make the story more genuine.
Research plays a big part in building the worlds of my stories. Luckily my brain has managed to retain useful information, such as how the Incas used to fasten sashes on their robes with ornamental pins that doubled as a knife. Knowing this might not get me a job as a CEO, but it certainly helps when writing the historical elements of my books. At times I do need to consult a professional (thankfully I have an expert on all-things-Inca at hand) because without my resources I would never have known that the Incas didn’t write or use wheels. These things may not seem important, but if I get them right, the stories are more authentic.
A great example of writers making the fantastical appear real is the genre of magical realism. Two authors I admire greatly are Isabel Allende and Laura Esquivel. Their characters accept miraculous happenings as part of everyday life. Readers are taken on a journey and are convinced these adventures could really happen. And this is all done by adding in minutiae to create a world that appears genuine.
My passion for writing stories set in South America is fueled by my own experiences. When traveling I record details, take photos, and madly scribble in travel diaries. I just never know when this material could be used as fodder for my books. I can pull out a photo, read a diary entry and transport myself back in time to a place I want to write about. Images are conjured up, be it Machu Picchu with roaming llamas or the markets in Cuzco, bubbling with colorful locals haggling over fresh produce. It’s easy to lose myself in the moment and feel, touch and smell the surroundings. And this is something I go to great lengths to replicate for my readers.
Chances are Antonio won’t be on my doorstep with a package of ideas anytime soon, so I’ll need to draw on my own travels, resources, and imagination. The bonus is I get to weave in obscure facts and experiences to create a story that feels authentic. Besides, not much writing would get done with Antonio standing at my front door – he’s a tad distracting.
Which books have felt you were the main character? What was it that convinced you?