Sunday, June 21, 2009

Adventurous Research!

You may have heard about unplug week from Alex's blog or from cruising around and seeing that a number of people have decided to take a scheduled break in a group attempt to get some other stuff done, to focus.

Well, if you took the challenge, what did you focus on?

I did some adventuring today!

I led my brother on a hike that started with a walk over a suspension bridge that spans the width of the Yakima river. You can see the cliff faces in the photo from there. Then, we continued on by a ravine trail that climbed and fell with the mountains. My brother is as interested in the science of volcanoes as many people are about novels, so I had a good time talking about clues of volcanic activity with him: porous rocks, basalt columns, and cliff faces that slant up nearly one hundred feet because of plate tectonics.

What does the adventure have to do with writing?

1. I'm searching for details for the world in my fantasy novels: sounds, sights, smells, textures, air currents, creatures, flowers, ...

2. I'm rediscovering a sense of adventure and what it feels like to go on a journey. So many fantasy novels involve getting around on foot, mine included, so best to remember what a steep ascent up to the top of a mountain feels like. The last half a mile was enough to make my calves burn and make me breathe hard, especially when my brother brushed bake the sage and I breathed in enough of the pungent stuff to make me feel a bit high.
If you haven't smelled it, you should. It's the dominant scent up in the mountains. There's the smell of sage and the smell of fresh air. If you haven't smelled sage, I'm not sure what I could compare it to. It's dry, pungent, and pleasant. I can tell you what it does to me. It makes me realize I'm in a different place. I grew up where the air is moist, wet as a drink of water. Up here in the desert mountains the air is hot and dry. Lizards crawl around--little horny toads that look like miniature dirt dragons. If you don't know, sage can be a scrub brush that grows by your knees, or it can grow up over your head. If you brush between two bushes, in order to continue on the trail, your hand will carry the scent and when the bush swings back your senses will be overwhelmed.

If you have a good description of what the scent of sage is like, feel free to let everybody know.

3. Epic views and petite details

I climbed high enough to look down on mountains, and out across the miles to the Mt. Stewart Range, which still has snow on its jagged peaks.

I saw a caterpillar with mustard yellow dots the exact same color as the moss growing on the branch that it clung to. The caterpillar was unusual because it had many spikes, just like a cactus. About twenty feet up the trail my brother spotted a blue butterfly. So, I left the caterpillar and took a picture of the butterfly in the sage.

I think that these kinds of adventures are good for discovering details that will make a story world real. I don't think it matters what the genre is.

People have different reasons for writing. One reason that I write is to live a life worth writing about. I'd go on adventures anyway, but fantasy writing is a fun way to share observations about the physical world. I've probably cut back too much on the details. I've read so much about getting to the action and developing tension on every page. That's all good and cool, but I think that there is something quite important about characters taking the time in the novel to experience the epic views and to comment on the petite details, the meaningful stuff in our world. I think that my next novel will focus more on these scents and sounds ... and there will probably be a blue butterfly.


  1. Sounds like a great trip! I am on an adventure of my own, moving away from the Pacific Northwest to Hawaii for a couple of years to work as an EMT. Like you say, I'm trying to be as cognizant as I can be of the feelings and experience of change and the new locations in order to use it in writing. Recently I've been taking time to hike the forests of Oahu and snorkel around, and it really offers whole new perspectives on the once-familiar. The PNW is a great place to scout around for a fantasy novel too (or any, for that matter)! There is some very epic and interesting terrain in Washington and Oregon.

  2. Oops, hope I don't post twice, seem to have lost one. Anyway, good job, Dave. That blue butterfly is gorgeous. As for sage, I would attach 'sharp' and 'aromatic' to its description.

  3. I was one of those that did Unplug Week and it was perfect! I love that you endeavored to find inspiration for your writing on an outdoor journey. Sounds wonderful! This week I am going to climb my second 14er and I look forward to using my experience as inspiration for writing.

  4. Funny you should post about sage. My daughter went on an extended hike (four days) this past week and brought home clothes that had that heavy, almost lavendery, musty-musky smell of sage on them. It's is cool stuff.

  5. Awesome post! Yes, I agree that details are important. I just have trouble not letting them take over. Sometimes I think it depends on your character. For instance, my character in my first novel is an artist, so she is more likely to notice details than the other characters.

    That butterfly is gorgeous!

  6. This is a great article -- I've highlighted it in my "Fiction Five" link-out post! I hope you don't mind. :)

  7. Christopher: Great to hear such an epic adventure awaits you. Keep in touch about it, if you like. I'd love to learn about your point of view on Hawaii.

    Tricia: Thanks. You have so many stunning photos on your blog. I enjoy seeing them.

    Cindy: That's cool that you did the unplug week. I will look forward to hearing about the mountain climb.

    Tess: I liked hearing how you ran across the smell of sage on your daughter's clothes. Very interesting POV. I could imagine that detail in a YA novel.

    L.G.: Details are what make us or break us. I think that you have to be in touch with your ideal reader, and yourself, to know when and how to include those details. I'm leaning toward the idea that people in the fantasy genre expect world building details and don't just want to get to the action. We care about how the world works as much or more than other story dynamics.

    Aywren: I checked out your web site. Cool stuff! I like your art. Thanks for the fiction five link!!! That's really cool.

    Actually, I did quite a bit of reading on your site. I liked coming across "bounce". That's a cool term, and I would agree that many followers just seem to sign in and bounce away. Somewhat routine comments from people are a good way for people to show that they are actually following the blog.

    FYI - Comments show up in my email. So, if you comment a month or two months after the blog post went up I will still read your comment. Let me know if you found this blog post via Aywren's Fiction Five Link. That would be cool to know.

  8. I like this notion of keeping alive a sense of adventure -- and taking the time to have them in the real world -- to enrich what gets on the page. I hadn't though of it that way, but I suspect this would be the antidote for the lack of motivation to write that we (and by we, I mean ME) can often suffer from. It's not about reading more or watching movies that have inpired in the past. It's about having real world fuel in the tank to power your imagination.

    Another thought-provoking post. Thanks, Dave!

  9. Hello, Dave! Sorry it's taken me time to get back to your comment -- thanks for stopping by and checking out the Fiction Five. And thank you for the compliment on my art!

    I didn't make up the term "bounce rate," but I think it sounds pretty neat too. It's actually a term that even Google Analytics uses when I read my website stats there. So I think it's legit.

    I've left you an answer to your question on my blog. Keep writing! :)

  10. Splash: Wouldn't it be great if you could get out and explore some exotic locals?

    Aywren: Thanks.


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