This past weekend, my family and I attended a (relatively) local Highland Games. This was not my first time to attend–I’ve gone to at least four Highland Games before, and have had a fabulous time at every one. This was, however, the first time that I went into the day with the conscious intention to approach the event like a writer.
What that means to me is that I paid particular attention to all the little details that make the Highland Games unique, so that if I ever want to set a story in such a place, I can pull those details out and put them on the page. Hopefully, anyone who has been to a similar event will read those things and know exactly what I’m talking about. It will make the story real.
These can be big, obvious things, like the ratio of men wearing kilts at the Games as opposed to in their every day life, or something that might not be quite so obvious. There is a perpetual drone coming from the bagpipers rehearsing and performing. It is so pervasive that you will either stop hearing it all together or it will drive you utterly insane. When one pipe is just out of tune, it sets your spine on edge, your shoulders rising up to your ears until the piper brings the instrument into tune with the rest.
I had a seat in the front row for the march of the massed bands where I learned just how incredibly loud over a hundred bagpipes passing within two feet of me is. That was when I looked at the pipers’ ears and saw that nearly every one of them wore earplugs. That’s something I don’t think I would have ever thought of, were I writing the same event without having experienced it and looking for details like that.
I’ve seen the heavy athletics competitions before, but I learned new things from watching my son and other kids in the 6-8th grade junior athletics. The caber, for example, is basically a small telephone pole that a competitor tries to lift, then fling end-over-end. Obviously it takes a great deal of strength and at least as much control to balance the caber against your shoulder before you throw it. Less obvious is how it affects the body. Most of the kids came away rubbing their clavicles. Having that heavy weight resting against your body is painful. One of the cabers my son tossed had knots protruding from it and he managed to have one digging into his neck. Afterwards, I noticed he had what looked kind of like a hickey on the side of his neck, which came from the friction of the caber when it was lifted into place. (Proud mom side note–he did win the caber toss.)
Part of traveling like a writers is noticing all these little details in the first place. Another part is–if you are like me and have a brain like a sieve–writing down as much of it as you can before it slides away into the general mind-mush. That way you can easily retrieve what you need some time farther down the road.
I’d love to hear any other techniques people use for traveling like a writer. Please share in the comments!