Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Too Much To Say

I've been back in the country for six days now. My sleeping patterns are gradually slipping back to normal, although still much earlier than I'm used to. I get hungry at all manner of unexpected hours, we still have things to unpack (or put away, rather), and sentient collections of cat hair emerged from the flooring while we were gone (and had no cat in the house) to float around and greet us upon our return.

This post marks my return to the normal routine. My first blog back, my first day back at the regular routine today. Hopefully not the exact same routine as before, but that's another matter.

In the six days we've been home, we've told perhaps four people total anything about the trip, and most of that has been brief. Of the most detailed I've gotten, I've shown pictures, and elaborated on a few of the details worthy of note in certain photos. I'm sure we'll have a lot more recapping to come, as we get back in touch with family this week, see friends. The SRW meet this Saturday, so I will try and get them all in one group before getting into it.

There's simply too much to say.

What does any of this have to do with writing?

In some ways, it's a bit like describing a novel. When a person asks "How was your trip?" it's akin to saying "What is your book about?" Answering "It was excellent" or "It's about a thief" is technically an answer, but conveys next to no information. On the other hand, rambling for ages (sorry Lesley) about disconnected bits and pieces, or everything all at once, does no better job of capturing the subject and will likely put the listener into a coma.

While we traveled, we found the best way to explain our trip was to say, "It's our 7th anniversary." Not much of an answer, but it offered some context, an immediate explanation for the length and breadth of our trip (which soothed Customs in London considerably) and offered room to fill in blanks and perhaps ask more questions.

So too for summarizing a work. Context and questions are a heck of a lot more useful.

Now that we're back though, answering the trip question is a little tougher. People don't want the reasons, they want the experience, and there's simply too much to summarize in one or two sentences. I've tried, on occasion, and the words always feel lame. You don't go to a 5,000 year old stone monument and say it was cool.

What the heck, I thought to myself. You're a writer, you should be able to do better than this!

Ah, but of course. I never go into a scene and write, "It was exciting and action packed! And there was lots of blood! And they were really afraid, and then they ran!" It's the details that make it, and help someone experience the same thing as the character/traveler.

Take that first picture I posted. It gives you absolutely no sense of the London Eye, nor of the Thames beyond and what might be nearby. What it gives is atmosphere. A sense of time and place, a certain quality of light, a moment, as one might experience in that same place. Those are the things that matter. I took hundreds of reference photos on this trip -- architecture, scenery, rooftops, patterns -- but none of them will evoke much for others save for a bit of context. They've no detail, no atmosphere, no experience.

Between these two photos of Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire, I'd wager I know which one the vast majority of people will be drawn to. Both offer setting, weather, time of day, context. Only one brings an atmosphere and emotion into the scene, a sense of being in it and feeling those ruins rise up above you.

Those are the things that bring scenes to life, and those moments are the best way to recount an experience. Simply pointing your camera/narrator at a scene and saying "This is it" doesn't cut it. So if I see you and you ask about the trip, I'll try to give you something specific.

Since we're taking a break from world-building today, share with me a travel story. What's a moment from a trip, or other event, that sticks out in your mind and captures the mood for you?

18 comments:

Celia Yeary said...

Good morning--I liked your comparison of describing a trip to you book. We've traveled, I guess, extensively, and yes it difficult to answer--how was your trip? I learned to say about our European/Scandinavian tours "Wonderful! We visited the wonders of Europe and saw places I never thought I'd see. We were thrilled."
About one of my books: I used to say "It's a romance," and the person would say "oh" and her eyes would drift away. Then I learned to say: "It's a western adventure set in 1880 Texas, with a love story entertwined." Something like that. The words "Western, adventure, and then romance" brought more reaction. "Oh! That sounds good! I love a story like that."
Our travels? Too many stories to tell, but they are all in my heart, my head, and each trip has it's own photo albums complete with titles and tag lines. Celia

Ilona Fridl said...

I love your pictures! I wish I could go to England, but funds won't allow, so I do my traveling on the internet. When I do go somewhere, the best part is meeting local people. I get a real feel of the place that way.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Haley,
Welcome back! Sounds like it was a great trip and you're loaded with ideas and photos for your writing.

My husband and I were in Great Britain once, way back in 1984. We took our oldest daughter with us, who turned 5 months old during the trip. Note to self: never travel with an infant. The paraphanalia a baby requires means travelling light is not an option. However, traveling with a baby did have its advantages. When we were waiting to board the plane home at Heathrow, we were standing at the back of a very long line of people when a very kind lady whisked us to the front of the line and got us seated on the plane in a jiffy. Everywhere we went people oohed and awed over her (she was a beautiful baby, still is) and we got into a lot of conversations with the locals that might not have happened without her there to break the ice. On the down side, my only memory of the Tower of London is a quick run through as my daughter screamed bloody murder!

Happy writing!
Jana

Helena said...

Since a thunderstorm approaches my area, I'll venture only a brief memory, but it does intertwine a travel story with a book (though not my own ... yet!).

One of the field trips I took when I was a student in England in the Fifties was to Stratford, and we made a stop at Coventry. I have a vivid memory and a black and white snapshot of the ruins of Coventry Cathedral which was bombed in the blitz of 1940. Next to it the walls of the new cathedral were rising and would connect with what was left of the old.

Zoom forward to 2010. I have just finished reading Coventry, a novel by Helen Humphreys, which is a beautifully poetic and realistic account of the lives of the people of Coventry as they coped with the night the city burned.

Welcome back, Hayley. I'm looking forward to seeing you Saturday.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Welcome back, Hayley. It's sad that a person needs a reason to take a trip. You'd think with all the global promotion, a person wouldn't need an excuse to travel and that a simple 'I've always wanted to see it' would suffice. And yes, that goes for Customs, too. But then, I guess with all the crazed terrorists out there...

So, if I get this right... those last 2 pics are different perspectives of Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire, correct? The difference is mind-blowing. When I saw the first abbey photo, I wished you'd taken a closer shot and then I saw the next one... It's an absolute achievement in photography! Very nice work!

You had me going, because as I read your post I got the feeling you weren't going to include any pics because they weren't 'writing' but your last pic made up for it. And for the record, I count photo journals as writing research where blogposts are concerned. (As I've proven many times. Heh)

As for your question, I was astounded by Castle Rock in Wyoming. I rode back and forth on that highway overwhelmed by its presence. I posted pics of it on my Wyoming Recon post.

Great post, Hayley.

Anita.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Celia, I like your approach to summing up tours. Your book sum-up is great too, the right mix of details to raise some questions about how it all happens, and let someone judge if it's something they'd be interested in.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Ilona, I really enjoy getting into local atmosphere on trips as well. We stayed in B&B accommodations the whole way through our trip, and a lot of the highlights were visiting things most tourists wouldn't know about. Even the difference between walking in Stonehenge (don't get me wrong, amazing) and walking in a stone circle in Cumbria no one else seemed to no about. Quite an experience.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Jana, travelling with your daughter at 5 months, that's an impressive feat in patience! I can't imagine all the coordination and pacing it would take. We barely managed to get everything done in our days often, and exhausted ourselves in the process. It sounds like she really brought a unique experience to the trip though, glad it wasn't all hasty tours!

I tried to avoid similar in only having memories of some areas from behind the lens of my camera. Plenty of pictures, but I'd rather come back noticing I forgot to take a picture of something (or get out the camcorder for an amazing performance, in this case) than not remember actually being there!

Also an interesting thought to hang on to for writing, what we might chop out of a scene to show the character's distraction.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Helena, what an experience! A great combination. There's something really fascinating about falling into a book that touches on a setting or event you know very well, makes you more invested in it, I find :)

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Anita, yes I was quite surprised a month-long trip couldn't just be "We couldn't see it all in a week," but I suppose the anniversary is a more interesting answer anyway.

Thank you for your compliments on the photos. I think that one of the London Eye is one of my favourites from the trip, if only because it's such an obscure detail but it really captures the moment -- for me at least.

Everywhere I took reference photos, I tried to get some 'flat' photos to establish context: size of a castle, location, layout of a ruin, etc. Sometimes it stayed that way the whole way through (Dover Castle has been redone as it would have looked in use in the medieval period, handy stuff) but others like Rievaulx's ruins made for much more artistic shots. Definitely more engaging beyond simple reference.

I'd actually thought about doing a bit of a photo blog, since I enjoyed yours from your research trips so much, but I don't so much have specific references I sought out, as overall impressions I may or may not use. Rievaulx was grand for a scene I wrote right before we left though, and helped build on that.

And fun fact, if you view the full size of my photo of Stonehenge, you can see a group of tourists who came in white robes for some sort of ceremony. That's all well and good... except Stonehenge was erected long before the Druids :P

Janet said...

Welcome back, Hayley. And a great post - I don't know how many times I've stumbled over the questions about what I'm writing or how's my writing going. How do you put into words an experience that takes over your life? Or try and describe places and events that to you even seem surreal?

Sounds like you had an amazing time - and I look forward to bits and pieces of your experience peppered in your blogposts over the next couple of weeks.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Awh Hayley - confession time... I totally missed the first photo. You didn't make reference to it until halfway down the post and by that time, I was so worried you weren't going to have any pics, the first one didn't even register.

I know the Eye is a huge ferris wheel type deal but didn't see it until I just read your comment to me. I thought, what? So I went back and finally saw it. But, of course! Now I see it because now I can put 2 + 2 together and remember what the Eye looks like from watching a segment of The Amazing Race when they went up in it. LOL

And I didn't even notice the white robes until you mentioned it. Now that's sad. To go all that way and have some misguided wannabes get in the way of a once-in-a-lifetime shot. sigh.

And yes, I really like the detail of your top photo, but think your bottom one is specialer. Heh.

Anita.

Karyn Good said...

Welcome back, Hayley! The things you must of seen, oh my gosh! I swear I'm going to get there one of these years :D It sounds like you had a wonderful time, researching, taking notes, exploring, investigating, etc.

I loved your comparisons. And the photos of the Abbey! The first one reminded me of a first draft with the second one capturing more atmosphere and emotion (like you said) and resembling a revised version. Loved the London Eye photo! and Stonehenge (oh and ah and all that :)

Glad you're back safe and sound.

Angela R. Sasser said...

Welcome back, m'love!

You know, it really tickled me because while you seem stumped about where to start concerning your trip, I have been completely stumped on how to ask about your trip other than "so how was your trip?"

I know there's a million and one experiences and places to start, but I just had no idea where! Thankfully there came photo spam to help me feel like I'm not asking redundant questions and to also prompt me into asking something more specific than 'how was your trip'. I actually hate asking people empty conversational questions like that when I could be asking them something way more interesting!

I think the only thing I haven't broached with you now are how people talked in different parts of the areas that you visited, which always fascinates me. Will have to pick your brain later!:D

My travel story? The one that sticks out most is out trip to Neuschwanstein in Bavaria when I was 9. I remember it was like stepping into a fairy tale after a long hike up a green hillside where a castle stretched out before us. The first thing I remember seeing was the statue of the Little Mermaid resting in a sprawling fountain that took up the front steps. She was a figure I'd studied in German class who was the preeminent tragic figure of Germany (she's a statue on all the seasides, or so my 9 year old mind remembers).

Opulent art, crystal chandeliers, stained glass, and all things that say 'fairy tale' covered every inch of that place. Then there were the stained glass peacocks in the small chapel outside. Just gorgeous! There was even a topiary labyrinth outside.

I'd really like to go back now that I'm older so I can appreciate the history more rather than the "Wow, mom took me to a fairy tale castle!"

Angela R. Sasser said...
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Angela R. Sasser said...
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Angela R. Sasser said...

Oh and one more detail about Neuschwanstein I think you might enjoy. When we visited, there was a small carnival on the top where you could play games and win little bits of modeling clay. But it was terrifying at the same time because there were no safety railings!

At the edge of the roof just behind the game vendors was a complete drop-off into a very deep valley. Made be very nervous!

Sadly, much like Stonehenge's fence that was added, the roof has now been closed off to visitors, so I hear.

Ban said...

All I can say is ... don't forget the sense of smell. I went to Haiti when I was 22 and whenever I smell the perfume I wore down there (which smelled strikingly similar to the lemon/lime fruit they make juice out of) I am taken RIGHT back !!!
'Course, you can't transfer memories to someone else by having them sniff your wrist :(