|Scotland--Where I'd like to go....|
Can it be done?
For a long time I thought that writing about a place you’ve never been was impossible (it completely violates the “write what you know” adage), but then I read a writing book by an author who wrote a series of books about India. He had never traveled to India, but loved the country. Of course, he did a lot of research. But he was certain the reason his books did well was that he was passionate about the culture--not because he was an expert.
I tend to agree. Writing what you love is more important than writing what you know.
So, if you’re considering writing about a place you’ve never been, here’s a few things I did to help me picture this place in order to write about it:
- Talk to people who’ve been there. It’s interesting how easily outsiders can characterize a place. I talked to a few people who’ve traveled to the settings in my novel and asked them about the details their impressions. This helped me include authentic details.
- Read travel guides. I found travel guides to the country I’m writing about invaluable. From everything from how long a particular ferry ride takes, to common expressions, to the taste of the country’s favorite soda, I learned details that will help me make sure I got things right.
- Watch films about my setting. (Nothing like an excuse to hang out on Netflix and/or You Tube for awhile.) I found You Tube great for movies about tourist destinations, the insides of buildings, and the countryside. Netflix was good for movies set in my country and historical documentaries. Watching a DVD series about this country’s history (although I won’t use most of the details in my novel), helped me get a better feel for the people and what has shaped them as a culture.
- Memoirs. These were invaluable, especially since the memoirs I read were from outsiders. (My protagonist is a tourist.) Again, the details were helpful, but also reading memoirs helped me gain a sense of place and culture.