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Writing in Another Land

London

Okay, so we’ve talked about writing a different kind of person than you actually are – maybe you’re a straight woman writing gay romance. Or maybe you’re a gay man writing a transgender character. Or someone in Iceland trying to imagine the experience of someone in South Africa.

That last one gets to today’s point. There’s an old adage – “write what you know.” But so often, we are challenged to write things and places that we don’t know it all, especially in science fiction, fantasy and paranormal. And these often require research to get the details right.

Recently I wrote a story set in San Francisco for an upcoming anthology. At the last minute, I reread the instructions for the anthology and saw, to my horror, that the story was required to be set outside of the United States.

Having already submitted it, I dashed off a quick note to the editor, apologizing profusely, and asking if they would mind if I resubmitted the story with changes. They graciously said yes, and I set about changing the locale of my story from San Francisco to London.

Now, I’ve never been to London. I’ve never even been to the United Kingdom. Fortunately, I do have a stepfather who is from Britain.

So I set off to find out the information I needed to recast the story – a small town that fit my setting in rural England; a place in London to set the part of the story that happened there; new names for my characters; and cultural details that would help ground the story in its new country.

When I was done – it took about a week to change all the details – I sent the story off to my stepfather, Tony. He enjoyed it immensely, and said that I had gotten pretty much everything right.

So I sent it off again for submission/ Unfortunately, it was not purchased for the anthology, but it was a great project in any case. It taught me that, with the right research, I can write convincing story set in some place I’ve never been to.

So my question for you today – have you ever written a story set in a real place that you’d never been to? If so, how did you research it? Was the end result convincing? And did the story sell?

2 thoughts on “Writing in Another Land”

  1. When I was writing “Finally Home,” I played around with different versions of chapter 1. One version had Chris in Hong Kong, which I’ve never visited. I did a lot of research online, reading between wikipedia and different travel blogs. Google maps was also incredibly helpful, especially with the Street View function. I could actual “stroll” down a Hong Kong street to see what was there. I also watched some movies set in Hong Kong, and broke out the “No Reservations” episode where Bourdain goes there.

    In the end, though, I decided to have the character go to Mexico City instead, since it worked better for the story. So, I honestly don’t know if my version of Hong Kong was convincing or not! ;)

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