Five Ways International Travel Can Add to Your Novel

Five Ways International Travel Can Add New Dimensions to Your Novel

By William V. M. McAllister

Malee - A Tear in the Ocean - About the Author - William V.M. McAllister IIIWhen I began working on Malee: A Tear In The Ocean, I was interested in the way that (mis)communication across cultures can change the trajectory of a life and how the ability, the willingness to dive deeply into another culture influences new perspectives. Yes, this may sound a bit cliché, the old idea that seeing the world will inform perspective, but is it true nonetheless — there is a reason that people fresh out from their studies would take a year of travel as a rite of passage into adulthood, to explore the ‘other’ and the self and come back with a more rounded and informed view. The same is true for authors of novels: using the book format as platform, to delve into the ‘other’, into another, widening the scope of how an author explores, with the reader, the fine details as well as the full sweep of human endeavor through situation and character, that the foreignness of a situation highlights the unique nuances of cultural and personal particularities, in a setting that surprises and delights. In Malee, I have endeavored to explore the nature of love and attraction and how it is that expectation (cultural and personal) affects and is affected by circumstance. It is a topic of which we never tire, and one that continues to intrigue us. Adding the international element to this deepens curiosity and opens possible outcomes.

1. Understanding Cultural Differences:

When I began traveling, one of the first things I noticed was the people — yes the surroundings were magnificent, but I found myself enthralled with new faces, with fractured language conversations, and with completely unexpected yet often personally enlightening interactions. These experiences helped me to shape characters from different ethnic backgrounds, rich experiences from which I pulled from to shape the characters in Malee. What I found in the writing of my first novel was that the basic understanding of cultural differences from American culture — as one who has traveled extensively— has allowed me to introduce realistic elements of misunderstandings and/or conflicts I have witnessed (or been a party to), to enrich my story. In the case of Malee it even became the central conflict of the story as well as the key to the ultimate resolution.

2. Intriguing Place Settings:

Well, this is an easy one, right? We all get swept up in the thrill of new sites, exotic locations, the dreams of globe-trotting. For me, having seen so much of the world, international travel more and more insistently became a crucial component of the story of Malee. As I began to focus on the strains of relationships, it was important to set the story abroad and in that, then to set the scenes in fascinating places where, through my own travel, I could write knowledgeably of the place while taking my reader with me into the exotic, not in a voyeuristic way, but rather, in an experiential one. Without degenerating into a travel log, I had hoped to hold my readers’ interest by incorporating the place setting into the overall plot. This is especially effective when the place setting alters the overall plot itself and became true of Malee: it could only have taken place in Thailand.

3. Inspiration:

I love to feel untethered, to leave myself behind. Traveling allows me this opportunity: to be anonymous while completely present and myself. The opportunity to experience some of the natural and man-made wonders of the world in such a state allows you to step away from your routine, to take an often necessary break from your writing, and to just let yourself be at one with the unique. This can be a rejuvenating time after which you are refreshed and ready to delve back into your writing. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Murchison Falls Game Park in Uganda, Ngorongoro Crater Game Park in Tanzania, the Great Wall of China, Notre Dame and Chartres in France, the Grand Canyon, Venice, Chiang Mai in Thailand, Dubrovnik in Croatia are all candidates for inspirational sustenance, and they were for me. Some of these locations, during the few breaks I took from writing, gave me insights on how to conceptualize Malee more completely. Each place offered me unique points of view that helped me to conceive and write a more rounded and full story, as well as the characters that populate Malee.

4. Meeting your characters:

As I mentioned above, I am enthralled with the human experience and meeting it face to face wherever I go. I have found that if one is alert to the opportunity of seeing and interacting with others that one cannot but help to absorb new dimensions of human behavior from the people of different cultures precisely because they are different. As a writer, for me this triggers thoughts on how to flesh out characters more completely, how to create a new character that serves as a catalyst for the further development of main and minor characters alike.

5. The challenge of setting:

Traveling to new places, where you immerse yourself in different cultures, presents a challenge of how to react to and/or discern what is going on and determine the appropriate responses/actions available to you within the established boundaries of this new culture. When you introduce these challenges to your character(s), you are able to explore and further expand on how quickly he/she can assimilate signals and information. As a writer, it allows you the opportunity to delve a little deeper into a character in ways that are not as readily available without these distinctive, foreign contexts. In Malee, our hero, Michael, struggles to assimilate quickly, while Malee, our heroine, tries hard to communicate the necessity of her situation though her own cultural restrictions and beyond their uncommon barriers. What some might consider an exotic setting, Malee’s Thailand showcases the fragility of these human desires: from Thailand’s temples, to the streets of Bangkok, from quite island getaways to the tourist centers of Chiang Mai, the backdrop of such a rich and diverse country enhances the emotions one encounters while reading. The struggle is to not have the location overshadow, but rather complement what is both extraordinary and common to human relationships across cultures and throughout the world.


William V.M. McAllister III is the author of Malee: A Tear in the Ocean. He began his career working for one of the major newspapers in the United States, but soon was recognized by his peers as a brilliant business mind. Leaving the newspaper industry to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities, Mr. McAllister has subsequently traveled to five continents working as a consultant, starting new companies in retail, international trade, and professional services. Learn more and order your copy of Malee here.

Follow William on Twitter @WVMMcAllister