Monday, March 26, 2012

Experiencing cultures for your writing

One of my recent novels is set in a world reminiscent of historical India. India is one of my favorite countries, and when it comes to writing I find it's important to experience the culture firsthand as much as possible. Obviously, I don't have the money to fly to India whenever I want. So this past weekend, when the Hindu temple in Spanish Fork held its annual Festival of Colors, I decided to attend.
The Festival of Colors, or Holi, is a Hindu holiday that celebrates the triumph of light over darkness and the arrival of spring. It focuses specifically on the god Krishna. In Hindu mythology, a young boy named Prahlada escaped the witch Holika by reciting a prayer, and thus Holika burned to death. During the Festival of Colors, people throw colored, scented powder at one another, listen to traditional music, and dance around bonfires at night. In Spanish Fork, they hold hourly throwings during which the 50,000+ attendees all toss powder into the air. It's an amazing sight - you can watch a video here.

The Spanish Fork Festival of Colors is the largest Holi celebration in the Western Hemisphere. It's also the largest Holi celebration outside predominantly-Hindu countries. It really was an awesome experience, and I got plenty dirty, as you can see in the picture below:


Me and Chris

For those of you who are writing about a culture that's not your own, my suggestion is to find events like this. Look for ways to immerse yourself in that culture. You may not be able to travel outside of the US, but many minority religious/cultural groups hold ceremonies, events, or festivals that are open to the public. Such firsthand experiences will bring authenticity to your writing.

14 comments:

  1. I saw your pics on fb. It looks like you had a blast. I didn't go, but I did see several people looking just like you at Walmart on Sat. Yes, Walmart.

    Great advice on experiencing cultures firsthand. This is my excuse for going back home to Hawaii every year. "Research" :)

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  2. Thanks for sharing! That sounds awesome, I'm adding it to my list of things to experience! Love the pic :)

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  3. Looks like fun. My son and his friends went to the Spanish Fork Holi as well. And then showered.

    So far, I've never written a book set in a location I haven't been to. I feel like I need first-hand experience if I really want to capture the essence of a location.

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  4. Ha, cute picture! Looks like you guys had a lot of fun. Great advice! My WiP is set in Manhattan, so I'm sure I'll be traveling to the city a few times this summer for "research" :)

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  5. From your picture, I'd have to say your "research" was a colorful blast. And you make an excellent point. Gaining familiarity through visiting and interacting can add authenticity to the writing.

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  6. I was totally planning on going to that! Shoot. Perhaps I should start using the calendar/schedule feature on my phone. I'm glad to see you have a good time! :)

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  7. This is great advice! Hmm...do they do a British convention?

    Love the pic!

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  8. I wanted to go to that, too! I need to be less forgetful. Looks like I missed out on a fun time.

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  9. I've always wanted to do that. I've been afraid I would get dye in my (very sensitive) eyes. My current WIP is happening in my own town, so it's fun to go and be in the locations that I'm writing about. Incredible how much easier it is than making up my own world. Still, I like me some world building.

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  10. This is such good advice and how much fun must you have had!?!?

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  11. words of wisdom! i am a big fan of travel, and find that it inspires me beyond my own manuscript.

    when i'm not traveling (boo), museums, concerts, and even walks in nature do the trick. looks like your event was a blast. i hope you left it filled to the brim!

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  12. FUN! And great advice! I totally agree. It helps understand cultures better.

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  13. Awesome, Katie. I'm devout LDS, but love learning about other cultures and religions. I've been to mass on Christmas Eve at the cathedral in Salt Lake City and I've been to the Festival of India a couple times in Spanish Grove. I'm pretty sure it's the same thing you went to, only back in the day they didn't throw colored powder. I missed out! I also looooove mythology. I love seeing how different cultures interpret life and the world.

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