Not long ago, I had the pleasure of a calm trail ride atop a horse. I’ve ridden in the past, but admittedly it’s been some time since I sat in a saddle. That was no obstacle, though; the beast was quite amiable and the environment, though freezing cold, was bereft of stress. A very good experience for myself and the other person with whom I planned the excursion.
But I bring it up not merely so share the joys of equestrian company, but rather I wanted to simply point something out. Riding a horse is something you see often in fantasy settings and movies, and often they’re depicted as majestic, strong creatures – rightfully so. But no movie or book, I don’t care if the horse plays a prominent role like in Hidalgo, can replace the experience of actually being on one’s back.
I’ll tell you one thing though. Riding Maverick, the horse chosen for me, gave me a fresh perspective. An animal like this carried my weight as easily as a man might carry a schoolbag. Of course simple logic can tell you that horses allowed for long distance travel and the transport of heavy loads, but simply being there and appreciating the animal’s strength first hand allows you to really feel it.
My steed of the day, Maverick.
As a writer I’ve always believed that successful depiction of anything puts the reader there. I tend to do this to a fault, spending a lot of energy on describing a scene before or while things actually happen. But you can’t expect a reader to believe your character is familiar with horses if you yourself aren’t. You can’t write a convincing cross-country jaunt if you’ve never taken a walk. And my personal favorite, you ought not expect a detailed fight to feel real if you yourself have never seen a real sword, let alone held one. Movies help, but bear with me.
Now, obviously not all of us have access to horses, or an armory, or a mountain trail. I doubt I’ll have an opportunity to go jousting any time soon, so we have to make do with the written or spoken accounts of others. There is nothing wrong with that, but one could argue that the experience is lessened to a degree. You aren’t telling first-hand details you noticed after all, and unless your source is thorough, accurate, and patient enough for questions, you’re really better off making an attempt to it yourself – a horse ride, a sparring match, a trans-Atlantic cruise, a night spent outdoors (WITHOUT anything electronic) – whatever.
The best stories are based off of adventures and experiences you yourself have had. What do you write about? What sorts of things can you do to enrich your writing? And your life in the meantime?