Put more flavor into it. That was the request of one of my publishers early on in my writing career. Trouble was I didn’t want it to sound like a tourist blurb, or basic info dump, so what was I to do?
You see, the reason they wanted it was that many of my books are set in New Zealand where I live, and from what I can gather, you guys up there in the Northern Hemisphere think we’re exotic.
I remember a penpal I had about 40 years ago wrote that she thought I ran around in a grass skirt and lived in a hut. Well, hate to disappoint you, but I’m not THAT exotic.
So how do I figure out what is exotic about my world, (or read that as you figuring out for your own environs) when to me it’s just plain old ordinary.
Firstly I suppose the different thing about us is that we’re upside down…we have summer in Christmas for a start. Actually, you can always tell who the immigrants are. They’re the ones at the beach on Christmas day. It’s old hat to us, so we don’t do it, we’re stuck inside doing the turkey and fake snow, a left over from our English forbears.
Friends arrived from Vancouver one Christmas and their comments were how different are plants are. We’ve a flowering Christmas tree called a pohutukawa, then of course our famous kiwi – and no not the fruit, but the wingless bird which is our national bird. And another point of difference was that he noticed how different our ocean was, the colors so different, more aqua.
So how do you bring this into your books?
In my book Always A Bridesmaid, my heroine was driving through the bush (read that as hilly/mountain ranges covered in native bush). She notes the dangling moss, a sign that the air is pure, and of course there is the history of the lake in Rotorua (a city she just left) where legend told us about Hinemoa and Tutanekai ancient star-crossed lovers.
And that’s another way to bring in flavor. In NZ we have an indigenous language, often plants, places, etc are named in Maori, so by using the language I was able to bring the color of my country.
But what about if you’re writing an historical. Again, temper the urge to make everyone know you’ve researched till the cows came home (or in my case in a country with 60 million sheep) until the sheep come home. Just a hint is enough. Mention the lady’s reticule, the man’s cane, or the carriage they’ve arrived in will certainly lend an air of the times. Then of course there is the politics of the time? Waterloo maybe about to be fought. Or in the case of my recently contracted time travel/historical Love In Waiting, Henry the 8th was in the background, and so too was the Tower of London, with descriptions of barges, and fish markets. All researched. But only a smidgen of what was researched ever reached the books.
A quick list of the type of things that I’ve used for flavor of setting.
Auckland Known as the City of Sails
Harbor Bridge Known as the Coat Hanger
Sydney Opera house We have the Sky Tower
What is typical of the month in your particular place? Season/holidays/plants in bloom.
Language of the times/country. Only a hint mind you. Too much and your reader won’t understand a word. And with language too, what about particular sayings. For example. G’day mate! Very typical kiwi-speak
So research plenty, and write a little and she’ll be right! (that’s another dose of kiwi-speak for ya!).
Happy reading and writing