So, your first question may be – what the hell has travelling in this world got to do with the fantasy world I’m building from scratch? Can you really use travel inspiration when writing when your novel is set in a world that doesn’t really exist?
Well, I firmly believe that learning more about the world you live in will help you to develop a rich and immersive world for your characters and the readers you want to trap inside your novel.
So, what better way to learn more about the world than to travel and actually go and see it. Travel broadens the mind, as they say. New experiences are so important in developing your imagination.
When you travel, you will notice things about daily life that you may take for granted back home and you will see things you’ve never experienced before. This makes travel a great source of inspiration for your novel – fantasy or otherwise. These little details about everyday life are crucial to notice as they can be used to create colour in your narrative and descriptions.
Here are some of the ways we can use travel inspiration when writing fantasy to improve our worldbuilding efforts.
Seeing landmarks for the first time
If you’ve ever been a tourist visiting a country you love, you’ll know that feeling of seeing a famous landmark for the first time and being blown away. That feeling of wonder and amazement is something you can bring to your fantasy world.
Your readers don’t have the benefit of seeing what’s in your head or even imagining what’s happening based on history – because the world doesn’t exist. They’re relying entirely on you to describe it.
So, replicating that feeling of awe and wonder becomes important if your characters are visiting a new place and you want to introduce an important new setting.
Food: smells and tastes
If you’re a food lover, I mean who doesn’t love food, then you’ll no doubt experience some great food on your travels. One of the reasons I love Italy is because of the food.
There’s something great about sitting in a new country, experiencing the smells that come from local restaurants and eating something more authentic or completely different from the food you eat at home.
When you travel to a new place, you think more consciously about the food you’re eating. You’ll notice smells and tastes you’ve never experienced.
Smell and taste are two of the most overlooked senses when it comes to writing fiction but they’re so important. We smell and taste things every day and take it for granted. When you write a scene involving food, don’t gloss over the details. Your characters might be used to food they’ve eaten a hundred times and not really think of it. But your readers don’t know what it’s like. Describe it like you’re describing a new meal you tried while on holiday.
Language and communication
I went to Luxembourg a couple of years ago. It’s a beautiful country with a fascinating yet confusing language situation, especially for an ignorant Brit such as myself.
There are so many languages floating around, it feels like everyone speaks something different. Luxembourgish, German, French and English are taught in schools. However, some parts of the country prefer French and others prefer German. There are people who can’t speak Luxembourgish but can speak English. I saw a sign in a restaurant which told people they only spoke French and English. There’s also a big Portuguese community there so a lot of people speak that too.
Obviously the people who live there are used to it by now, mostly. So, it’s fascinating to watch them converse and switch effortlessly between languages.
When you travel to a country with a different native language, I definitely pay more attention to how communication works. If you’ve ever tried to speak to someone who understands a little of your language or vice versa, you need to find ways to work around it.
When building a fantasy world from scratch, you may have characters speak different languages. If you’ve travelled to a foreign country before, you can pull inspiration from your own experiences to come up with realistic conversations between people.
Going abroad or even travelling to a new city in your home country is almost always going to lead to one thing – getting lost. There’s no shame in it, we’ve all done it, some more than others.
While this is less of a problem now with Google Maps, I’m sure many of you have been stranded somewhere before. Even if you’ve meticulously planned the route, all it takes is one train cancellation and a mysterious bus replacement service to unravel the whole thing. This is even more tricky if you’re not fluent in the language. It requires a bit of creative thinking.
So how does this relate to fantasy? If you have a new visitor to a town this is a great opportunity to show off and describe the city through their eyes in a way that doesn’t feel like a massive info-dump.
One way we can go further than this is to make your character get lost. Many of these setting/character introductions start off by showing the big, awe-inspiring things in the city. How about showing the other side? Getting lost is a perfect way to see what a city is really like. You’ll experience the shiny tourist part and then the real side where people actually live. Having your character take a wrong turn can open the world up to make it multi-layered and feel real.
For example, when Harry Potter ends up in Knockturn Alley – a polar opposite of the wondrous Diagon Alley.
Note down new experiences
If you like taking inspiration from new experiences you have on your travels, it’s always a good idea to make notes. Many writers carry a notebook with them, others make notes on their phone. Anything you write down doesn’t have to make sense. It can simply be a line of something new you noticed or enjoyed. You can then use these little moments when writing your fiction to fill in the blanks between the big moments in your story.
Do you use any travel inspiration when writing fantasy? What’s something you noticed on a holiday that you put into your stories? Let me know your thoughts below.