Travel broadens the writer’s mind

On board Air CanadaFlying from Paris to Montréal (pronounced in the Francophone world as ‘Mon_roy_al’) was  full of brain-fodder for me as a writer! Over the seven hours, my other half and I watched films, ate slightly strange food and thought about the next few weeks of our Big Trip. But best of all was chatting to two completely different Canadians: both enthusiastic, friendly and intensely polite, one young, proud to be French and Canadian, the other well travelled, but orientated completely towards the Canadian Anglophone world. I knew about this split world view, but my husband was fascinated by it.

Two people will see the same thing from completely different angles and interpret it differently. Well, we probably knew that from daily life. But underlying this is a lack of curiosity about the sphere of the other person/world view/daily life. We are all creatures of our own world and tend to view everything though our own mental eyes and in our own interest. Sometimes we can’t start to understand how the other person could possibly take a certain position and still be our friend!

For writers, these varying and opposite positions are gold dust. Firstly, they establish a natural conflict before the story even begins. Sometimes, exploring the reasons for that stance is the objective of the story, other times it can produce such an element of surprise for the protagonist that it becomes a major turning point in a story.

Secondly, they show we must have, or cultivate, the ability to place ourselves in another person’s shoes in order to form whole and realistic characters. We may find it relatively easy (and I say ‘relatively’ with some caution) to get into the mind of our protagonist, but looking through the eyes of the other characters is equally essential.

Why not spot somebody in a crowd whom you would instinctively shy away from and write a few lines about a day in their life? I did this once on an Arvon course; it taught me a valuable lesson and enriched my writing.



Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO. The fourth book, AURELIA, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines…

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