Fall beech trees

Fieldtrip time! Visualising the world of the story

When I start a new book, I always try to go on a fieldtrip. I either visit the place where the book is set, if it’s a real place and if it isn’t too far afield… or I go somewhere that has the same look and feel. If you’re writing about the Yorkshire Moors and live in the UK, it’s a good idea to go there… But it doesn’t have to be the first thing you do. First, you might want to think where there is a bit of heathland and some bog near you. Where can you go to take some photos that will inspire you?

Sometimes ‘close enough’ is a good place to start because it doesn’t tie you to what you think is real. If you have actual photos of your setting, it can be really hard to move beyond those. Maybe you took took shots at the wrong angle or of the wrong bit of the Moors. Maybe you went in the wrong weather or didn’t have the right sort of light. If the photos are there, glaring at you, it’s hard to give yourself permission to write your version of the Moors (or wherever). Starting with something ‘close enough’ allows you to draw inspiration from your photos without feeling you’re cheating by using your imagination to create the place you want to write about.

But do go to the Moors (or the Fens or wherever your book is set) eventually if you possibly can. Maybe there’s something you got a bit wrong that you need to correct. Or maybe there’s not quite enough detail in your book. Use your fieldtrip to go and find some. With the world of the book firmly in mind, you’ll probably be able to take better photos for your needs and find the type of detail that fits in with what you want to show.

My latest novel, MoB, is set on the edge of a forest. I am fairly (though not entirely) sure I don’t want it to be set in a real place. I’m not even sure I’m going to be very specific about where in the UK my imaginary town/village on the edge of a forest is. The one thing I do know is that I don’t want to set the book firmly in the real villages in and around the local woods I’ll be using as my inspiration.

Autumn beeches

When taking fieldtrip photos, I try to take pretty pictures… but I also try to take some that will remind me what it was like to be there. For instance, it’s good to have a photo to remind myself that it may be a beech forest but there are other types of trees too, including some amazing old oaks.

Oak tree

Variety is also important. Don’t just find the prettiest place you can and take 100 shots. Try to represent as many facets of whatever locale you are in. If you are on the Yorkshire Moors, pick an area and try to represent that. I picked a 1/4 mile square area and still managed to capture several very different types of landscape. All of these pictures were taken within 1 hour, but they also vary hugely in terms of how warm/cold they look, what the terrain is like, what colour the turning leaves are and so forth.

Frost and autumn trees

Autumn trees

Trees against the light

Try to take a few quirky shots too. Things that get your imagination going.

Plane reflected in lake

Autumn leaves floating on lake

Above all, make sure you take photos that will remind you what you found most beautiful about the place. What made you fall in love with it and want to rush back to your computer to write?

Autumn trees reflected in lake

Bare tree and frost

Autumn tree against the light

Finally, think outside the box. Find the magic in your setting. How else will you be able to show it to the reader?

Reflection of autumn tree

'Fairy Glade'

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