Character Development, Narrators, Travel

The Effect of Travel on Storytellers

Having just returned from 2 months out of the country, including about 5 weeks in Turkey, I want to mention a few things about travel, and what for me seems to constitute a jolt to the writer who does travel, perhaps, especially, to the writer of story. Clearly, poets find themselves awash in images that are new for them, that cleanse and re-invigorate the poet’s eye. Poets will often find the music of languages moving through the ear and body in ways that can unleash streams of writing that lift them beyond the last poems they brought forward in the place they call home.

But for the writer of story, here’s something specific: in travel, one must deal directly in large ways with the strange aspect of reality that shows that there are worlds quite busily going about without your presence or the presence of anyone else that you have known in this lifetime. How you enter there, this world that may never have known of your existence, may be related to how you enter the world of the story you intend to write, with what reverence, what curiosity, what assumptions and presumptions, what grace, what clumsiness-whether endearing or threatening, what openness to what you find, what need to impose what you already know. (Having also been recently in Prague, “The City of Kafka,” makes me want to recall as well that each of us enters a strange new world at birth, and as children must make sense of it all, somehow, and that this process may also help shape the kind of storyteller we become, and the kinds of narrative voices we use.)

As well, in travel you may enter through a door called “Tourist” or “American,” or one marked by the history you are in some way connected to, “Jew” or “imperialist” or “aggressor,” but part of what we do as we travel is to fulfill other people’s views of these categories or undermine them, and perhaps to help construct for others some category not yet made room for. This certainly is revelatory in terms of our own understanding of ourselves, and as writers, helps us see how the unfolding of character might work in moving from the assumed to the shock of the real as a character breaks apart assumptions, or allows herself or himself the cynical settling into the precise behavior that was expected. Some air of superiority or belief that one comes from a superior culture. Some impatience with another way of being. Some inability to learn even one “word” of another culture.

So, for a quick but perhaps interesting bit of writing for storytellers, I ask these questions:

How do you as the writer enter your story?

What do you take with you, what assumptions or instruments?

What do you leave behind, excess baggage, not of use here, as you enter the story you intend to write?


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