Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Study Abroad: Real Settings

¡Hola!  Si no ya sabéis, estoy en Sevilla, España.

That's Spanish for "Hello!  If you don't already know, I am in Seville, Spain."  We arrived last Tuesday for our semester abroad, and so far, it's been excellent.  The food, the flamenco, the winding streets…

Nowadays, lots of college students will spend some time abroad.  At many schools, studying abroad an unspoken expectation.  No doubt it's a valuable experience for everyone, but it's especially awesome for writers.

Sure, it's great to play the part of "expatriate artist," like Hemingway or Fitzgerald, and sit in a bar or café while penning the next Great American Novel--but let's also be honest with ourselves.  What with challenging classes (sometimes in another language), endless social activities, and all the excitement of a foreign city, our writing time is probably going to significantly decrease.  I know mine has.

Yet at the same time, I'm considering this entire semester as writing research.  Here I am in a completely new setting, surrounded by a new culture, and it's the perfect opportunity to absorb an atmosphere that could easily end up in a story.  Personally, my favorite books all have unique settings:  the little Colombian town of Macondo, or the streets of Pamplona, or the plantations of Georgia (One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Sun Also Rises, and Gone with the Wind, respectively).

I'm sick of New York.  I'm sick of London.  I'm sick of L.A.  Give me some place exotic.  I read for experiences I can't have in my real life, so the less likely I am to travel to a certain setting, the better.

Take Daughter of Smoke and Bone, for example.  While I'm not big on paranormal romance,  I loved the two main settings:  Prague and Marrakesh.  Would the plot have changed much if Laini Taylor set her novel in London?  No, not at all.  But seriously, I've read so many stories set in and around London, I feel like I vacation there every summer.  Prague?  Marrakesh?  Now those are entirely new.

One of the reasons I chose to study in Seville was the setting.  As an English major, it makes much more sense for me to go to England.  In terms of classes, it would probably be better.  But Seville, while crawling with Americans, is a city unlike any I've ever visited.  Narrow streets, lively plazas, a beautiful river…My writer's mind is running wild!  No lie, in this past week alone, I've figured out ways to include a flamenco dancer, gitanas (gypsies), and the city itself in my WIP.

Also, if you haven't already realized, I'm big on setting, so expect more posts about it :)

For now, enjoy these photos of Seville, Spain :)

calle (street) in Seville.

Look at that bridge!  (I've yet to cross it.)

The gardens of the Alcazar (a palace).  If you're a fantasy person, and write about palaces regularly, why don't you try this:  Instead of the usual "Cinderella's Castle" or Gothic fortress, give it some pizazz.  I'm talking bright colors, arches, and tropical gardens like this one.

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