Researching Setting: Walk It When You Can

trees around feed plotMy middle grade science fiction novel is set on an Earth-like world.  The area where the main character lives is very like an area I frequented as a child and still visit as an adult.  That said, my mom and grandmother never encouraged off-road strolling.  There were too many snakes and ticks and chiggers.

Lucky for me, I now live in male dominated household I lovingly call “Man Land.”  Paths and roads are mere suggestions.  Before you go down, you spray your clothes with Sawyers (tick repellant) and you use the video feature on your cell phone to self check for ticks in hard to see areas.

This weekend, I took the time to stroll through several feed plots and up a rarely used road or two.  I discovered that walking an overgrown gravel road is actually much easier than walking a well-maintained gravel road because the gravel is anchored in place with weeds.  When you walk past a stand of short leaf pine (at least I think that’s what it was).  The bark looks a lot like shag bark hickory and you can smell that glorious piney smell when you stroll past.  I was surprised how closely together the trees were growing.  Not even a tween could easily pass between the trunks.  Certainly not a teen in a hurry.

Not far from that was a stand of cedar.  Pines have long needles.  Cedar have scaly needles/leaves.

There were clusters of multiflora rosas growing amid clusters of blackberries.  I had forgotten how small wild blackberries could be, not finger-tip sized like the ones in my yard.

The sweet smell of honey-suckle stood out but I didn’t notice any scent what-so-ever from the trumpet vines.  The flowers were beautiful and easy to see but scent?  Nothing I could detect no matter how much the humming birds love them — and I actually saw a humming-bird alight on a branch and rest there for a time.

I had already roughed out the scenes in which my character moved through this landscape at about this time of year.  I’ll definitely be reworking them now that I’ve done it on a humidity drenched evening as the sun was pushing the horizon.  I know it isn’t always possible but this experience helped me see that your character’s sensory perceptions will be much sharper if, before you pen that scene, you take the time to walk the path.



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