Agents often write in the summaries of what they’re looking for that they want to be transported to another world. What does this mean? Well, while it can definitely mean to get pulled into a story set abroad, or set in the future, or the past, it can also mean a story set in Anytown, USA, present time. That may not sound very…otherworldly, but if it’s done right it can be. To be transported to another world, a reader need only to be very convinced that the situations, characters, and places you are writing about are real, so he can buy into it, so he can be immersed in it, so he can be transported to the who, what, where, when, why, and how of your story and get lost in it.
I just got back from visiting my aunt in Guatemala and I guess this was on my mind since I was in a very rural part of the country and it did indeed feel like I was transported to another world. I read Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel and The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman while on planes, in airports, and on sticky afternoons when turning a page was about as much strenuous activity as I could handle. I was struck by how easily and quickly I was transported into the worlds these fine ladies created in their books. And it’s because I bought into what they wrote; I bought into the worlds they created through setting, characterization, and conflict.
As always, traveling definitely inspired some ideas for a couple of short stories—mostly because in such a hot climate where air conditioning is rare, I spent many afternoons in a hammock outside my aunt’s house and heard the lives of surrounding neighbors trickle out of open doors, windows, and the thin walls of small, falling houses. More than once, I scribbled a phrase (proving that perhaps blue ink is not dead), or idea that I thought would work well for a story and what I love is that of course, I can set these stories in the world in which they were inspired—for some it seems the only way they would work—but for others, it doesn’t matter where it takes place. What matters is that the world I create, wherever that may be, is incredibly accessible and real to the reader.
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