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Living Abroad And Storytelling

Writing is the perfect excuse to travel. If you’re looking to write deeper stories, live abroad and if possible learn the language there. In doing that, you’ll strengthen your understanding of people and widen your worldview. Here are three ways that living abroad makes you a stronger story teller.

Why People Do What They Do

We really do view the world differently based on our culture. American tourists abroad will often get a lot of flack for exactly that reason. They’re considered individualistic and inconsiderate. And, comparatively, I can’t say that is entirely wrong. Compared to many other countries, American culture is defined by a strong sense of the individual and personal needs over the needs of others.

By living in another country, people undergo what many call “culture shock.” For me, this felt like a coming to terms with discomfort caused by unfamiliar cultural pressures.
This forced self-awareness gives the “why” to people’s actions. Suddenly, you have to rethink even basic things. “Why do I do this?” becomes a constant question. So, it was by living abroad that I have developed a deeper sense of self-awareness. And as I’ve become more self aware, my writing has improved.

Knowing why people act how they do, subverting that, and juxtaposing it makes character interactions compelling. So, if you’re struggling with dialogue, or character development in general, try a different scenery. You’ll be shocked by what you find.

World Building Inspiration

One of the complaints that agents give is that they’re tired of “euro-centric” narratives. So, knights and castles? It’s a bit overdone, you know. The market is looking for something fresh, something new. You’ll find things so different from what you’re familiar with, and that’s inspiring. Every culture needs basic things: food, water, shelter. And yet, people addressed those basic needs so differently around the world. Going abroad helps you step away from the familiar. You can combine the familiar with the new, or you can pull entirely from the new. It makes the worlds you build feel 1. more real and 2. more inclusive. Nothing’s worse than a white-wash novel full of people, places, and things that are all the same. The world is filled with unique things, so things in your book should be unique as well.

It could be a festival, an art form, a fighting style, really anything could capture your attention while travelling. While in South America I was often amazed at the graffiti around the cities. Literally. Anything. You’ll see how people and culture come together and shape each other, and you’ll better under stand how you can write a culture in the context of a book.

Despite the fact that I’ve mainly focused on fantasy ideas with this, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to travel even when writing a modern fiction because with that it’s all the more important to make sure you’re getting the facts from the source.

Stories Different From The Ones You Know

Stories change around the world, as does the manner of storytelling. Your writing will feel fresh if you implement some of the writing techniques from various countries or cultures. American story telling is… for lack of a better word, very linear. This happens because of this and that leads to that. But, this isn’t true of all narrative styles. Some are more meandering, you’ll get at the finish but it might not be a straight path. Others dance around the central topic without ever brushing it explicitly. The best way to familiarize yourself with different approaches to narratives is to read literature from other cultures. Which is, in my opinion, best done in that language if you can manage it.

I have some recommendations, but I’m biased so take it with a grain of salt. One of my favorite Spanish authors is Federico Garcia Lorca, for obvious reasons. You can purchase his bilingual collection of poems on Amazon. Also, his works Bodas de Sangre, Yerma, and La Casa de Bernarda Alba are all gems in their own right.

For something less European, you could certainly read the works of Machado de Assis. Although I recommend the original Portuguese, I know that many people reading this likely won’t speak Portuguese. As such, here’s a link for purchasing his book Posthumous Memoirs of BrĂ¡s Cubas and, one of my all time favorites, Dom Casmurro. If you haven’t read them, they’re worth the read!

So, what do you think? In what ways has travelling helped you become a better writer? Comment below and don’t forget to follow the page for more updates.