Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Travel and the Writer

Today my guest is Jim Ingraham who wants to share his take on a recent trip north with his son Pete and wife Slim.

And while Jim is here at Terry's Place, I'm over at "The Old Silly" blog sharing a quick lesson on Transitions.

Welcome, Jim

I have just returned from a seven-day voyage to Alaska. I had originally planned to keep a journal or perhaps a diary so that I would remember events of the trip. I described the flight from Florida to Seattle (truly uneventful) and the marvelous experience of having dinner on the rotating restaurant on the Space Needle. After boarding the ship that was to carry us north, I set the journal aside and just enjoyed what I was witnessing. I do not intend to write “Murder on the Alaska Cruise.” Agatha did that about a train ride, and one’s enough. But I did give a lot of thought to the value of travel to writers.

Somerset Maugham traveled for story material and came up with good stuff like “Rain.” Hemingway and Flaubert and Graham Greene, among flocks of others, made productive use of travel. Alternatively, the legendary editor Max Perkins discouraged a woman from traveling to Paris for atmosphere. “It’s better to use your imagination,” he said, or something like that.

So what do writers gain from travel?

Because description in fiction should be restricted to what has provided the POV character an emotional experience, and not be a wearisome listing of what the character pays little attention to, the impact of that experience is what is memorable. When describing the Havana waterfront in "To Have and Have Not", Hemingway didn’t describe the square. He gave us the “bum” drinking from the fountain as his character walked from the dock to the Pearl of San Francisco CafĂ©.

Seattle was bigger and more developed than I had expected: lots of hills, unlike here in southwestern Florida where you rise above sea level only on bridges and in buildings. Mount Rainier like a giant ghost looming in distant mist gives my memory something it will never surrender. As the restaurant atop the Space Needle made its slow turn to provide a view of all parts of the city, I recall little but rooftops and city streets as I waited for the reappearance of the lovely Mount Rainier.

An excursion ship is a place to sleep and eat and get your picture taken, to figure out which elevator will bring you to a theatre where you can sip sweetened alcohol so that you may endure the funnyman they hired to keep you laughing.

As the ship threads its way up the narrow passage of a fiord, you open the morning curtains of your stateroom and are stunned by the looming granite cliffs that rise hundreds and hundreds of feet above you, patches of green and occasional conifers sneaking out of crevices in polished stone.

And you see the glacier poised above the granite shoulders of the mountains it dominates, crushed blocks of ice luminously blue, brutally powerful as though waiting to slide down the cliffs to overwhelm you.

Images that cause emotional reactions remain with me. Will I use them in my work?
If I am true to myself, they will be in the meat and gristle of what I write.

For more about Jim, go to www.jimingraham.com


Kerrie said...

The biggest thing writers get from travel is experiences. I believe it is important for us as writers to sometimes put down the notebook and fully engage in our travel experiences. These memories will stored away and can be taken out when needed.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Beautiful pictures! And I agree...we're wanting to get some insight on the setting and use it less as a travelogue. Thanks for the post.

Terry Odell said...

I've always kept "travelogues" when I've traveled, long before I used them for anything other than recaps to send to family after the trip. I still tend to think that way, enjoying what I'm seeing for its own sake rather than 'how can I use this' -- although I confess I do tend to think about the people I see as possible character fodder.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Beautiful pix! Love the mountain and some good writing advice. Interesting story about Perkins, too.

My muse travels with me, uninvited, wherever I go:)