One of the main goals of any novel is sending readers to locations real or imagined. What of the real ones, though? Does a writer have to travel to those places before writing an authentic story?
Many writers love traveling the world for research, and this certainly not a bad idea. Fusing your novelist career with that of a world travel would be fun, but isn’t always a feasible option. Especially if you’re writing about some dangerous region or perhaps a real, yet inaccessible place, such as Mars.
The truth is that a writer needs to be able to make a reader believe he or she is somewhere they have never been — whether or not the writer theirself has. In the Information Age where you can learn of any place — though I have learned that other books are often just as, if not more, valuable — any writer should be able to quickly drop a reader into another world.
You always run the risk of a reader who has been to your chosen locales finding a inaccuracy or omission. While a writer should strive for realism, part of writing well is picking the right, and enough, details to paint the mental picture. Going to a historic location in a novel shouldn’t read like a history lesson. Nor should it be a simple laundry list of descriptors.
Stonehenge and Glastonbury Tor are among the places that figure into Among the Shadows, anchoring the fantasy adventure in the real world. One of the opening scenes in Book 2, Awakening, unfolds on Nan Madol, a mysterious and ancient, ruined city in the Western Pacific. While visiting these places would be a fun way to write, not visiting them is a welcome challenge in creation, as much as is the world-building that fantasy and sci-fi genres are known for.
A writer explores to write, a reader reads to explore. Or is it a writer writes what he wants to read, and a reader reads what she wants to write? In either case, a great book should be like that looking glass or wardrobe and send you to another place and time.
Creating a world to me is like riding a train to an unknown destination, you see all the little nooks and crannies of the world pass by as you ride, but nothing that’s out of view from your window as you press on to your ultimate destination.
The world must be Habitable, while being in-line with the plot, and not simply backstory thrown in to satisfy the author’s desire to tell a story. Going off on a world-building tangent will derail the narrative and possibly lose the reader’s interest. Allow the world to be a character as well that unfolds and changes with time. The reader wants to believe, wants to be delivered to a fictional happy place, so the writer must make the place comfortable for them to inhabit.
Just my two cents