|photo by deegolden at morguefile|
One of the most fun things to research through observation is setting. If you plan to set a story in your vacation destination, then any and every detail you can record will be useful. But even if your story world is quite different from where you're headed (i.e. science fiction or historical) you may find that observing real-world settings helps you think through key aspects of world building.
Pens ready? Here are some key things to observe and take notes on.
- What's the lay of the land? Is it smooth and flat? Undulating with small hills? Mountainous?
- What is the quality of the ground? Rocky? Dry? Sandy? Reedy? Swampy? Muddy? Covered with sharp, stiff grass? Full of manicured lawns? Meadow-like? Lush fields of crops? Densely forested?
- What bodies of water are nearby? Ocean? Sea? Lake? Pond? River? Stream? Creek? Wadi? Swamp?
- What features of the land do you find most striking for positive or negative reasons? Gather sensory details about how they look, feel, sound, smell, and (where appropriate) taste.
- Does the area have distinct seasons? What signs do you see to indicate that?
- How much does the temperature change in a given day?
- How humid or dry is the air? How does that make your skin and hair feel?
- What sorts of storms do you encounter? How does the air feel before, during, and after the storm? How does is smell?
- What do you like and dislike most about the weather in this location? Gather sensory details about how the weather feels, sounds, looks and smells.
- What is the mix of public buildings? Mostly national chain stores, unique boutiques, or struggling mom-n-pop shops? Many office buildings or many factories? How diverse are the houses of worship? How well-kept are the schools?
- What do most homes look like? How can you tell the prosperous neighborhoods from the poor ones?
- In what era were most of the buildings built? How do older sections differ from newer ones?
- What unique features seem adapted for the environment? (i.e. screen porches in buggy places, homes on stilts in flood-prone places)
- What color schemes do you see most often? What kinds of furniture?
- What buildings best represent this place? Snap some photos and gather sensory details of how the buildings look, feel, smell and sound.
- What kinds of cuisine are offered at restaurants? Ethnic? Fancy? Unhealthy or healthy? Generous portions or stingy? Is food generally expensive, mid-range or dirt-cheap?
- What foods do locals love most? (A grocery store visit helps here)
- What do the locals do for fun?
- What activities seem most advertised and supported? Sports? Arts? Shopping?
- How do the locals dress? Are they fashion-forward or backward? Do they seem to spend a lot of time on their appearance or very little? What sorts of outfit would fit in or draw stares?
- How do the locals interact with one another and with visitors? Are they chatty or standoffish? Polite or brusque? Easygoing or high-strung and rushed?
- What's the prevailing mood of the local population? Do they seem happy and hopeful? Angry and annoyed? Discouraged and listless?
- What features of the local culture do you find most striking? Snap candid photos of everyday activities and gather sensory details about how foods smell and taste, how venues look, smell and sound.
What do you most enjoy observing and learning about in new locations?