Friday, November 2, 2012

Off The Beaten Track: The Man from La Mancha, Imagination, and Writing

Denise Hartman's background in journalism and television production has influenced her writing style and habits, while living overseas for several years, currently in Madrid, Spain, gives Denise's imagination new sites and sounds for her mysteries. To hear more of her travels or books checkout her blog, her website, or find her on facebook.

I get to live in Spain right now and I live in the city where Miguel Cervantes was born, Alcala de Henares. He wrote a story of a famous noble adventurer Don Quixote, the man from La Mancha, and his faithful sidekick Sancho Panza.

Quixote got carried away with his imagination and believed he was a noble knight who needed to right the injustices of the world that he believed he saw. The only trouble was he did not live in the era of knights, so people thought he was crazy. He saw giants instead of windmills but like a good warrior battled on away.

Thinking about great warriors, travel, and writing brings out the Don Quixote in me. I, like Señor Quioxote, love to use my imagination to see stories and write stories where previously none may have existed. He imagined the world through dreamer’s eyes, and what Sancho Panza saw as a humble inn was a castle for Quixote, the conquering knight.

As travelers who write, you may see more than a beautiful side street in Rome, you may see a scene in a novel or play. A strange incident observed in a store may develop a plot line or character conflict for your mind. Creativity is often fed through new sights and new sounds for me. My novel, Killed in Kruger, was born out of a trip to South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The new surroundings of travel seem to put my creativity on tenterhooks and I see the world through new glasses. I knew I wouldn’t be in Africa very often and I kept a journal so that I could revisit the events and days. I’d be so tired some days that I just put a list of single sentences meant to trigger my memory. Some of them do and some of them I don’t remember what I meant.

What is it about travel that gets those juices flowing? I think it is just stepping out of your norm that makes you look around and take notice. You don’t have to go around the world or even leave town to stimulate something new in your imagination. It’s something you can do in “normal” life, but it takes a bit of practice to stop the frenzy and pay attention.

Quixote’s first step on his adventures was to name his trusty stead, Rocinante, mount up and head away from home. He may have been deluded by reading too many stories of knights errantry (one of the conclusions by his relatives and perhaps by ours at times as well). Reading can be a lot like travel. It does the same thing for my imagination, feeding it with new sights and sounds and taking me to worlds that are a lot of trouble to get to on international flights, trains, buses etc.

All the same, leaving home brought Don Quixote many adventures and his imagination complicated those situations into full-blown conflict. Quixote attacks a group of friars he mistook for enchanters holding a lady captive.

 Don Quixote 
by Honoré Daumier
As writers, we too must leave the comfort of home or even a cozy plot line and chase something more complicated and that may require something of us that isn’t comfortable. We may have to pull ourselves out of the comfortable ways of writing or story lines that we find easy. Kill or confront characters or scenes that don’t quite fit in order to make a better story. Use our imaginations to dream big, imagine wildly, and dare to go beyond our own literary limits and stretch the boundaries of our stories.

An innovation in the story of Don Quixote, and one reason it is considered a forebearer of our modern novels, is that it used story to treat themes and characterization, which was a new idea. Beneath the encounters in Don Quixote’s battles are themes of dreamers versus realists, deception by self or others, types of characters and the right to opinions.

Writing a novel or story gives the modern word warrior the opportunity to fight subtle thematic battles within our characters and chapters. The deeper theme is there even if it is something simple (good versus evil), emotional (adequacy) or perhaps more complicated social commentary (domestic abuse). It may be hard to see as you are writing a rough draft but it can be teased out and developed in editing. If we refrain from preaching, letting the characters speak honestly, a reader will find the story more satisfying for the richness of the themes.


  1. I love this post, particularly since I'm about to travel for the first time to Spain--first time to Europe in fact! How timely to come across this. Thanks :-)

  2. How fun - it's delightful and totally different than other parts of Europe. So much in travel can be energizing and inspiring - have a wonderful time.

  3. Lovely post, Denise. Thanks for sharing it with us this week. It must be fun living in a city with such a wonderful literary legacy.

  4. We'll have to call you Senora Quixote now, Denise. I can't wait to see what writing comes out of your stay in Spain. AND where you end up next! Thanks for a great post.