Note: This post was written in August, 2016.
A few days ago, I opened my WIP for the first time in. . . Well, I don’t know how long it had been. But let’s just say it had been long enough that when the document opened, I swear I heard a creak.
Like all of us, I’ve been busy with a lot of regular life stuff (new rescue puppy, busy schedule, etc). But busy I can handle. What’s hard is that I now write for my day job, and after work I just can’t look at a screen, much less force my brain to produce yet more words.
So what changed a few days ago?
Well, I’ve been in research mode lately, looking for details to spice up last year’s NaNoWriMo project. It doesn’t hurt that I’m currently visiting my family in Crete, where the book (and the two books that come before it), take place.
Having extra time to write has helped, but what’s helped even more is living in the non-fictional version of the world of this trilogy.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
World building is just as important in contemporary romance as it is in fantasy and science fiction.
For readers, it’s the little details that make the world of a book relatable and believable.
For writers, those same little details of our imagined worlds can keep us connected to our stories and spark our imaginations even we’re not actively writing.
And yes, while the vacation photos I’m about to subject you to are from somewhere exotic, I could make the same point with photos from my own neighborhood.
Here are some of the powerful little details that have helped me jump back into my world.
Greece being Greece, the book naturally has a lot of scenes with food. One of my characters, after having been away from Greece for six years, returns and is served snails.
In the original scene, that’s it. A relative is cooking snails. But thanks to an actual experience in my cousin’s kitchen, the scene now has the added flare of a snail climbing out of the pot.
And about the snails, they were collected in the mountains after heavy rains (no, I couldn’t bring myself to eat any, though I’ve been told that I’m missing out).
I also realized that I have a scene where a character is served wine. When I was recently served wine, it occurred to me that I’d forgotten to mention the traditional copper pitcher.
Then, to my delight, I got my hands on some family recipes, including the recipe for a cake that appears in the opening scene of the second book of the trilogy.
Around the Village
In my fictional world, the village bakery is owned by protagonist Katerina‘s family.
Here’s the real thing, complete with dakos.
On a whim, I decided to tell the real-life baker that I was writing a book about a Cretan bakery and asked if I could look in the back. She gave me a quick tour, but wouldn’t allow photos.
Still, I now have a better idea of what I’m writing about.
Then there’s the village museum, old church and school where protagonist Evi spends time with Mathaios.
Whenever I pass through the area, I feel like they’re going to show up.
(Note the retsina bottles in the museum window. I haven’t decided how to work that into the story, but the possibilities are endless.)
Let’s not forget the beach. My characters spend a lot of time there, doing yoga, drinking frappe, taking boat rides, swimming, etc.
All three books revolve around a fictionalized version of a donkey sanctuary that’s in the mountains right above the village. While I was writing the drafts, all I had to go on was the sanctuary’s Facebook page.
But now I can say that I’ve actually been there and I’ve fallen in love with the donkeys and the rescue dogs.
Because I’ve learned what it feels like to hug a donkey (they’re so dirty and fly-covered, but it’s worth it), I must, must, must rewrite a few of the scenes.
I also visited the sanctuary’s gift shop, which they use for fundraising. Some of my characters paint rocks and knit toy donkeys, and now my descriptions will be more authentic.
As an added bonus, on the way home from the sanctuary, I got to visit a farmer who picked fruit for us and introduced us to his animals.
My books are already filled with goats (and sheep, “and stuff”), but now I have this experience to draw on.
I can’t wait!
The second book of the trilogy involves complicated scenes involving beekeeping. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the village beekeeper gives workshops and was thrilled to answer my many questions.
In Greek, my name means honeybee. Sorry about the silly selfie, but here I am in front of “my name.”
The beekeeper is anxiously waiting to read my books, which may have something to do with the fact that I promised to put him in the acknowledgments.
Whatever the reason, I appreciate the pressure.
Lastly, I’ll leave you with some random but pretty village pictures that are rotating as my desktop wallpaper as inspiration.
I know that most of my writing won’t happen here, but I’m thankful that I’ve got my photos, my souvenirs, and my memories to keep me going once I leave.
I’ve also got YouTube, so I can close my eyes and pretend I’m there. (Cretan music sounds nothing like “Zorba.” It’s its own genre.)
There you have it!
Let’s give the science fiction and fantasy writers a run for their money.
If you need some inspiration, take some time to build your world.
Take or find photos (even make a collage), listen to music (even create a playlist), bake (smell and taste are surprisingly powerful), or do whatever it takes to dive head first into your contemporary yet fictional world.
* How do you build your world? Leave a comment and let us know!
Melina writes contemporary romance with a pinch of oregano and a dash of chutzpah. She loves to travel, especially to her family’s village in Crete, and turn her adventures into research for her novels. In July of 2012, she moved to Jerusalem with her adorable but sneaky cocker spaniel. Her family now includes an incredibly sweet yet troubled rescue puppy. You can visit her at http://melinakantor.com