Writing Like a Traveler, Traveling Like a Writer

Tamara Ireland Stone’s debut novel, Time Between Us, is the love story of Anna and Bennett. But their story is far from ordinary, because Bennett has the ability to time travel—and he can take Anna with him on these adventures.

Tamara has been nice enough to stop by Figment to talk a little bit about the book and the challenges of writing like a traveler. Tamara took an amazing trip to Asia, that helped inspire some of the scenes in Time Between Us. But she also understands there is a power in making any destination—from the local mall to top of Mount Fugi—a fascinating destination. Read on to learn more and check out the writing challenge, too!

 

One of the things that got me excited about my initial idea for Time Between Us was the combination of time travel and world travel. Because this story had to have both. After all, if a cute boy showed up at your house, held your hands, and told you that if you closed your eyes, he could take you to any place on earth, wouldn’t you have plenty of wish-list destinations to keep the two of you busy for a while? It’s a big world.

But frankly, I hadn’t seen that many places. I wasn’t an international journalist or a travel guide writer. Was I equipped to write a worldly story when I still had so much to see? Would I even remember what it was like to visit the places I’d been so far?

A Late Start

I didn’t even start traveling until I was 28. And frankly, up to that point, I was okay with that. My world was small and safe. I knew how much each coin in my wallet was worth. I spoke the language.

But then a really amazing guy I knew told me about trains and hostels and unexpected adventures, and that’s when I started to feel like I might just be missing out on something. Eventually, we took sabbaticals from our jobs, scraped our pennies together, and took off for our first big adventure: Five weeks in Southeast Asia to celebrate our engagement.

We started in Borneo. You know, the place from Survivor Season 1. The one with the bugs as big as house cats and monkeys that steal your lunch. We saw a monitor lizard that could have swallowed me in one bite if I hadn’t run screaming. When we snorkeled, I swam away from the fish (in my defense, they had teeth). Even though Borneo was my idea (I wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t “touristy”), I spent most of that week wondering why I wasn’t sprawled out on a sandy beach, drinking a sweet beverage out of a hollowed-out pineapple.

Then we arrived in Thailand. We fed elephants in Chaing Rai. We visited Buddhist Temples built into jungle valleys of Krabi. On Ko Pha Ngan, we read books from hammocks overlooking the sea by day and danced barefoot on the beach during the island’s now-famous Full Moon parties by night. We ate delicious food, drove a rickety jeep in an insane rainstorm, and we remarked to each other how everyone—and I mean everyone—seemed to be smiling. All the time. It was magical. I was bitten by a lot of mosquitoes but I was also bitten by the travel bug.

We saw a lot more of Southeast Asia during that five-week trip, and I only have one regret. I wish I could go back to that first week in Borneo and woman-up. They’re monkeys, for goodness sake.

See? I did remember.

And as I started writing about these places, I realized that the more I wrote the more the details came back to me. The even cooler discovery: I’d already been traveling like a writer. I’d paid attention along the way, capturing moments in my head that we never once captured on film. It was all there, just waiting to come out.

When It Mattered More

My neighbors are 13 and 16-year-old sisters. They were originally from Seattle, but lived in India for a year before moving to our town.

I loved talking with them. They understood that the world around them is big, interesting, and different, and I started to realize how much I wasn’t like them at their age. Of course, the web has given everyone access to the rest of the world, and with it, an understanding of different cultures that I didn’t know as a teen. But I was fascinated by how living in a different country, even for a short time, made them appreciate and respect this giant, beautiful, diverse world of ours. They inherently knew that our town was a tiny little blip on a great big map. I didn’t get that as a teen.

I started to wonder if I was writing something more than a fun story with some cool travel destinations. What if the places I’d been inspired readers to branch out, to see the larger world beyond the safe one they knew? If my personal literary hero, Judy Blume, had written a story about a girl who visited Surat Thani, I might have wanted to travel the world at 13 rather than 28.

I got excited about giving readers the travel bug. Mosquito free.

Make Any Place a Destination

Unlike my characters, I don’t possess any supernatural talents, but “traveling like a writer” has given me a magical power I never expected: I now see every location as a fascinating destination. And guess what? You already have that power too.

Look around you.

Your readers want you to take them away. Anywhere. What looks boring to you is interesting to other people because it’s different. So show them your small town—many people don’t know what it’s like to live in one. Show them your big city—most people are fascinated by the idea of growing up in a busy metropolis. Show them your school and your local bookstore and your best friend’s car and your life with your parents. Travel down your street and look at it as if you’re seeing it for the first time. Take it the details. Then write about them.

Give your readers an adventure they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Remember, your experiences might seem small and inferior compared to other people you know, but they’re yours. That makes them unique. That makes you an expert.

So there. I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, but I did it. I told my travel story.

And now it’s your turn.

Writing Challenge: Tamara Ireland Stone takes readers on an incredible journey around the world and through time in her debut novel, Time Between Us. Now it’s your turn:

In 300 words or less, write a description about where you live—a street in your town, your favorite restaurant, a local beach or park—as if you’re seeing it for the first time. Tag your writing TravelChallenge.

Figment editors will choose our four favorites to feature on the Figment homepage! Tag your entry by 11:59 p.m. ET on Friday, October 26 to enter. Read the full rules and get writing!

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