Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Adding Flavor to your Romantic Suspense

By Sandy Parks

Romantic suspense promises the reader adventure, suspense, and frequently exotic locales. How does an author add the flavor of a location unfamiliar to the reader and carry them along on your great adventure?

Whatever your tools (guidebook, camera, interviews, photos, internet), think about researching as going to a place for the first time. How will you react to the sights, smells, and sounds? Use all your senses. Seems easy, right, but where do you start?

Consider the big visual cues like landscape and then work to the smaller ones like people. A camera is a good tool for recording impressions of an onsite visit and bringing them home as a reminder of the setting, people, and events. 
I take my camera everywhere. In this case, I took a few photos of our guide,
 who would make a great romantic hero!
Think how your characters might feel when they see a massive city ahead, or towering mountains, lifeless glaciers, or stand at the bottom of giant ancient columns of a former civilization like in the photo below. 
What would the immortal warriors in my sci-fi novels
have seen during the Pharaohs reigns?


Don’t focus only on the big things like the oceans, sand dunes, cityscape, mountains, architecture, or geology. Dig deeper. What type of trees line the streets or the oasis? What animals are common? What season are you visiting? What jobs and occupations do the people have? What do they wear? This young family in Egypt pictured below, wore a mix of traditional and western garb. The little boy had a Curious George sweatshirt, but when I asked his parents if he was anything like George, they admitted to having no idea what the logo meant. I got to tell the story behind Curious George and they decided it fit their son well.
A cat finding the perfect place for a nap
at the ancient Roman city of Ephesus.

Luxor, Egypt   
Imagine how a location might fit into one of your novels. My characters in the Hawker, Incorporated series search for airplanes around the world. My immortals, in my upcoming science fiction, cover regions of the globe and watch for signs of off-world interference. Where would my characters live, work, or eat in the place I am visiting? Would they live in a lovely riad in an exotic place?
A quiet riad courtyard in Marrakech.
What are the streets like they would roam? I photographed the ancient Fes medina in Morocco and noted little things that would help enrich descriptions. The lanes were too small for automobiles, and barely fit mules, scooters, or cycles. The passages, paved with dark uneven tiles, were narrow and closed in, and wandered in a serpentine path. Overhead the passages were shaded by straw, corrugated plastic or metal, wood, or perhaps nothing. Old, pentagonal lamps hung from wires stretched between walls. 
Fes medina street covering and lights

The Fes medina
Don’t forget to notice the little things, like flower boxes, fountains, mosaics, doors, and carved friezes. Remember color. How is it used? Are the flowers white or are they white against verdant green foliage? Do the spice vendors display bags of spices, candies, or olives, or do they display them in a well-planned blend of colors that equal an artist’s palette? Do the local fishing boats display old polished woods, shiny metals, or when docked, create a row of vivid primary colors? Do the balloons filling the sky dab pastel colors against the background of ivory volcanic tufts?
Olives in the market at Rabat
Balloons over Cappadocia, Turkey

Let’s not forget sounds. Stop and listen. In Fes, discover the buzz of bees that cover sticky treats on display, the clatter of hooves on pavers from mules carrying goods, the mule drivers yelling “Balek, balek” to warn of the mule’s approach, or the cut of a motorcycle engine echoing off walls. But what if your story takes place in a quiet countryside? Do the cicadas sing, a tractor engine echo against the hills, a horse whinny, doves coo, leaves rustle, or an annoying fly drive you nuts buzzing around?

Bees in the souk on a piece of sweet
Of course, we can’t forget smell and taste. I lump these together because they often go together, as with food. Our characters do eat. Are women on the beach frying fresh caught fish in pungent spices and onions? Is there an old woman in the shadow of a Roman aqueduct offering a glass of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice? It’s tart sweet taste is refreshing on a hot day.
Pomegranate on the tree
 But not every smell comes with dinner or baking cookies or bread. Does your character step over a stream of liquid only to be accosted by the stench of a sewer? Did your comic sidekick eat beans for dinner? Does your character climb into a taxi that reeks of body odor or open a window to salty sea air or the tang of damp earth?

The last thing to consider is texture or feel, because it can be used in so many ways to express the mood of your characters as well as add description to the setting. Leather or vinyl can be cold (or warm if just sat upon), smooth, soft, sticky, slick, or cracked. The carpet under foot can be thick and hand woven wool, or luxurious and expensive woven silk or a durable Turkish carpet with a hundred years of service. The last photo is a blend of senses from the rough scales of an iguana, to the orange, brown, and red jumble of colors against the reddish sand, to the quiet scrape of its long claws as it positioned its body in a showdown with another iguana.
I took this photo of a Land Iguana in the Galapagos Islands.
Enjoy your research and remember to employ your senses and look at the little things at your locations as well as the more obvious landmarks. For information about Sandy's books check out her websites at www.sandyparksauthor.com and www.sandymoffett.net.




9 comments:

Sharon Calvin said...

Love the pictures and the reminder to add local flavor by looking beyond the obvious (and looking up!) I need to make some travel plans...

Anne Marie Becker said...

Wow, what a beautiful post, Sandy! Love all the pictures - thank you for sharing them. (And I couldn't help pausing on that one of the olives - must have taken someone a long time to arrange them all so beautifully for market.)

Rita said...

WONDERFUL post! My books are thrillers and move rather fast. By necessity I have to keep the description down. But when I can I lay it on.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Great post, Sandy! You made me feel as if I were actually there. This could be a primer on how to insert description in your work. Good job.

Sandy Parks said...

Thanks, Sharon. It's amazing what kind of things you notice when you look in a direction the average person forgets. Check out a sunset, but look in the opposite direction. Have fun with those travel plans.

Sandy Parks said...

Anne Marie- The street vendors in many of the places I visit are artists in their own right. I've seen beautiful displays of dried fruits, candy, sweets, soaps, and most definitely spices. Huge bags of spices (which smell wonderful).

Sandy Parks said...

Thanks Rita and Marcelle. Including description and keeping the action going is something I deal with, too, and I find dumping my characters right in the middle of a setting where they interact with their environment is key. Like they wander through old ruins at night and have to feel the cold stone and intricate designs. I've always wanted to write a fight scene where the hero lands in bags of cumin, chili powder, or paprika and the heroine thinks he smells like a roast. LOL

Julie Moffett said...

You always take the best pictures! Fantastic post and a good reminder to add "flavor" to everything we write! You rock!! :)

Laurie Cooper said...

Fabulous post! You are the most well traveled person I know. You're the go-to person for pictures and insight to unusual places.:)