Mile 20: Visit Locations

My last entry was about locations, especially the importance of accuracy if you’re writing about a real place that is readily researched. With this entry, I’m going to suggest you visit as many of those locations as possible.

Most Westerns take place in the western half of the United States, which means if you live out here (and I do), my suggestions are far easier to implement. But no matter where you live, if you have the opportunity, visit the places you’re planning to write about. I’m not saying it’s impossible to write about locations you’ve never been within 500 miles of — I’m just saying it’s harder. Sure, virgins can write about sex, and vegetarians can write about the perfect steak, but given my choice, I’d rather read about it from someone who’s experienced what they’re writing about. Time travel seems to be a problem — most of us have not squared off in a gunfight, been chased by Comanches, or even been bucked from a horse. But, we can visit the towns, prairies and mountains of the places we’re writing about.

I was so moved last year by a trip to the Grand Canyon, specifically to a Havasupai village, that I completely changed the planned location of my second Brock Clemons trilogy (“Battle on the Plateau,” “Mojave Massacre” and “Raid at Red Rock Canyon”) to the Grand Canyon. I made two more trips back to do additional research, and I think it’s reflected in the story and the writing. I hope it makes the books better, but I know it made them more fun to write.

Just driving through the American West, even if you never leave your car, will give you some insight. Try to see yourself, 150 years ago, in the same places you’re driving through. I recently drove from the Cerro Gordo mines in California (which play a huge role in the book I’m currently writing) to Los Angeles. I stopped, walked, took pictures and made audio notes the entire drive down. I’m now using those notes and pictures as I write the climactic battle scene. I’m absolutely convinced having been there (and I’m not sure Red Rock Canyon has changed at all since 1870) is going to make for a better book.

So my suggestion, as life and finances allow, is for you to visit as many locations as you can, as often as you can. You’ll learn more about what you already planned to write about and might be surprised at the new things you discover. The very worst case is that you’ll most likely have had a great vacation.

By the way — my next three books take place on Santa Cruz Island, right off the coast of Ventura County, where I live. Already looking forward to the research!

I wish you good writing, and if you have a question or something you’d like to share, send me an email at [email protected].

Thank you, enjoy and keep writing!

One Comment on “Mile 20: Visit Locations

Marilyn Collier
October 16, 2018 at 4:34 pm

I agree. I went to Carson City, Nevada because the still have the “old”” city to walk and look at. I had been to the other places in my first two novels (well not the ficticious towns), but never to Carson City. I’m so glad I did!


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