Yesterday, I went to Cassadaga, Florida to do research for my current WIP, which, due to some highly entertaining and totally unexpected inspiration, is set there.
Suffice it to say, it was a fun and fascinating experience and I will likely do it again if the opportunity arises.
But here’s the real question: Do you have to visit the places in your novels in order to write effectively about them?
The fact is, you don’t. Otherwise, folks like Ray Bradbury and M.D. Cooper would be in real trouble.
You can get a
crap-ton LOT of information from the internet. Google has a width and breadth of images that is nearly unimaginable, and that’s just pictures, on one search engine. There are articles and blog posts on practically any topic one might wish to investigate.
However, you have to be careful. Articles aren’t always reliable, and images don’t always match their titles.
While researching Cassadaga, I found a wealth of lovely images, but when I got to the actual town, a lot of them didn’t match up to what I saw. Instead of the quaint-but-substantial town I saw in the pictures, I found a quaint-but-teensy wide-space in the road with a hotel and a visitor’s center on one side and a smattering of shops on the other.
Does this matter?
I have two answers to that question. Yes, I rather think it does, but on the other hand, no, possibly not.
Why? Because if I write about Cassadaga, odds are that most of my readers will never have been there either and won’t know the difference. Not only that, but I could simply name my town something similar and create whatever I wanted, based loosely on my internet research.
It’s always comforting to have options.
However, if I want to use the actual place name, I could run into issues. For the reader who has been there, my missteps in describing the town could be significantly jarring.
Even more important, visiting the place has given me a feel for the atmosphere and dimensions of the space that photographs and articles cannot match. As I walked about the little town, I felt spiritually well, and physically healthy and a bubbly sort of enthusiasm that I will not try to explain. I saw and experienced things directly and can use those experiences to deepen my writing.
It’s much more fun to simply attribute it to the location and accept it. To some, it may sound odd, but I felt a happy energy in Cassadaga that I know will translate into my writing.
In the end, I concluded that while traveling to the places you write about isn’t strictly necessary, a writer should do so whenever possible. Mostly because traveling is FUN, but also because it feeds the muse and punches up the veracity of one’s prose.
So, what is your vote? To travel, or not to travel, that is the question. Answer in the comments below.