It’s been over 2 months since I returned from my trip to Italy, but since I’ve been looking at description in writing, I figured it was high time I went back to that trip and shared what I learned.
Do real life experiences breed better description?
If you recall, one of the reasons I was so eager for my trip to Italy was to scope out Pompeii for a possible book idea. While there, I discovered a lot more than what I set out to discover.
Originally I was only interested in Pompeii. I wanted to check out the site, get some impressions of what it is like coming up to it, how well preserved it is, that sort of thing. I wanted to feel what my MC would feel as he arrived at the site. Little did I know I would come back with a lot more ideas, and none of them related to the story I set out to research.
Naples, surprisingly enough, provided more inspiration than Pompeii. Naples is a medieval town, despite it being 2011. There are still narrow cobble-stoned streets, twisting alleyways, and the best part of it, it hasn’t been modernized the way Rome or Munich or other large European towns have. Because of this, I felt like I was being catapulted back in time.
Relying on all of the senses to open your mind to inspiration
The sights, smells, and even sounds all called to me, filling my senses and giving me some great ideas for descriptions -ideas that I could never have honed in on that well without first-hand experience. Things like the way the street lights reflected off of cobblestones after a day of rain, or the sound of rain hitting those cobblestones, or the energy of a small cafe in the late afternoon, or the adrenaline rush as a car comes racing towards you down a narrow alleyway, searching for a place to move to avoid being hit, and being terrified that the car will smack into the walls closing in on it from every angle. Even the feeling of being surrounded by these high walls with little room for escape provided inspiration.
Part of why the environment affected me so much may have been because I set out to be affected. I kept my mind open, I absorbed everything like a sponge. I wanted to remember the sensations and, as a result, I got some really good material for a future book.
Of course, you don’t have to travel all the way to Italy to get inspiration. There is inspiration everywhere. Walk outside and observe what you see, pretending like you are a stranger to the area. Look at things from an outsider’s point-of-view and you just might be surprised by all the things you pick up on, all the new sensations you become aware of.
Do you rely on real-life for inspiration? How do you turn on your senses to really see, hear, smell, and feel things, even things you are very familiar with?