Travel fuels many of my stories. While a reader might pick up a book because they find a new setting appealing, it’s the people on the pages that drive them to read late into the night.
After this year’s Berlin Marathon, I took advantage of the interconnected European train system and headed to Prague. The four-hour trip ended up taking seven after a tree fell across the tracks in front of us and we were compelled to stop while it was removed. During that time, passengers began talking (well, there was one group who decided the delay was the time to begin drinking in earnest, but that’s another tale.) The majority of folks on board had just finished the marathon and were doing the same thing I was, using their post-marathon time to explore other cities.
Fill a train with those who ran 26.2 miles the previous day, stall it near Dresden for three hours, and you’ll find humor in abundance. You’ll also hear about unusual sites visited, hometowns, and post-run muscle cramps.
Upon arrival in Prague, I hit all the usual tourist spots, as one does. I explored both New Town and Old Town, climbed a few bell towers (a real challenge on post-marathon legs), and hopped aboard a nighttime river cruise. I even managed a walking tour of sites off the beaten tourist path and found some fantastic restaurants. It was a cacophony of historical sights, tourist banter, and food market wonders.
However, I also met an Armenian man who was visiting from Mexico with his father. He asked me for help at a metro stop. I showed him the app to buy tickets and once on board, we talked about the places we’ve each lived and visited. He’d been everywhere and was a natural-born storyteller.
That evening, rather than hit another historical site, I snagged an outdoor table at a small hillside restaurant to enjoy a drink and watch the sun go down over the Vltava River. The place was dead empty, but not long after I settled in, a group of teenagers arrived, pulled together several of the adjacent tables, then happily chatted and laughed as they watched the sunset. They spoke German, but I could only pick out parts of what they said. I couldn’t tell whether they were German, Swiss, or Austrian, only that they’d arrived in Prague that afternoon.
and were having a blast exploring the city. I’m sure some people would hate having a cluster of vacationing teenagers beside them in that situation, but I left my table happier than if I’d watched the sunset in silence.
When I write, I want to capture that feeling. Readers should experience a location in the same way the characters do, and that means incorporating more than descriptions of streets or buildings. For instance, in Slow Tango With a Prince, the characters wander Buenos Aires streets filled with stunning architecture, but that are also occupied by café workers, children heading to school, gossiping neighbors, rowdy sports fans, and plenty of tourists.
Locations are more than points on a map or props for a story. They’re layered with history and tales of human accomplishment. They’re sights, sounds, and smells. They’re also the people we meet as we explore.