Inspiration Station is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com highlighting the people, places, and works of art that inspire us as writers.
I don’t often talk about my manuscripts and works in progress on ChiYA, but this post does need a bit of that background before I delve into my recent trip and how it’s inspired my writing. I am Korean American and I love to use my personal heritage in my writing. Just the history of Korea itself lends such a rich source of inspiration for me that I could write all day about the rise and fall of kings in the Joseon era. Speaking of, my most recent WiP is based on Joseon traditions. So when I was traveling to Korea last month I figured I’d do some (more) research.
I have to say that I’m lucky enough to go to Korea pretty regularly. I started writing my last MS there and it really did influence how I described the world in my book (since it was set in a contemporary Korea).
I try to use my own lived experiences in my writing, but I try not to fall too deeply in the trap of describing a place in detail merely because I’ve been there. I like to think that worlds created in books, even if they are real places, have a level of discovery for the reader. I love getting a sense of the scene from my favorite books, but then layering my own imagination on top of it as a reader.
That’s what I try to do when I’m writing about places I’ve been, because I do believe everyone experiences places differently. I like to think I open the door and step aside to let the reader have their own time with the places I’ve created.
Something that helped me with this a lot this trip was the fact that my younger cousin was experiencing Korea for the first time. To see how she perceived these places that I’ve been to many times, and how she experienced everything in a way I’d never imagined, helped me understand a different perspective on things that might have grown “common” to me. It gave me back a sense of wonder of the new and it inspired me in my writing.
My tips for using your travel and experiences in your writing are:
- Include the things that drew you there in the first place, but don’t be too leading. Don’t try to force your experience on others, just let it be a guide to open the door to a new place and then let the reader experience the world as they will.
- Use your own emotional attachments to a place as a way to explain why something ordinary could become extraordinary. I love the smell of rice cakes, it’s kind of sweet and savory at the same time. When the sauce is too spicy it stings my nostrils, but it reminds me of so many memories of my semester abroad in Seoul. Those small moments make a place richer for me and I’ve used them to enrich my stories.
- Let a place speak for itself. This is something I think about a lot because I’m writing in a non-western world. I don’t want to frame everything from the lens of an American POV (even though I am a Korean American). I want the world to stand on its own without preconceived notions or biases.
- In that same vein, don’t force it. Make sure that you’re not layering expectations on top of your world (especially if it isn’t necessary for the story). I’ve read pages and pages of exposition explaining a place and then it turns out it never had any relevance to the plot and I was…baffled.
- Try to imagine the same place from multiple angles. I would suggest this for new and old places you’ve been. Sometimes, the old becomes new when seen from a different POV (like how my cousin helped me see Seoul in a new light).