Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Writing A Setting Of Where You've Never Been

Writers are a tricky brood of people. You see, writers often must weave a tale set in a place (or a time period) that they have never been. How do you do that? Sure you can make it up and hope that it comes close to the real thing, but more often than not, you will get someone shooting you an email telling you that you are way off the mark in your setting. They used to LIVE in the place you are writing about and it never had the types of trees or flowers you wrote about.

What if I were to write a story set in Scotland, yet I've never been there? Let's say I've heard the song that goes..."You take the high road and I'll take the low road..." so I think there must be some mountains in Scotland. I've heard about the craggy cliffs there. Sure! So I begin to write the setting picturing this:

photo by CNaene
Yes! It must look like Colorado. Mountains, right? Well, not really. Scotland looks more like this:

photo by James Barker
Yep...a bit different, wouldn't you say?

So how does one go about writing a setting in a place you have never been before? Here's some ideas:
  • If you have the money, take a vacation there! If you were published, you could write it off as a tax deduction. Maybe you can write it off even if you aren't published yet. Hmmm, possibly Krista Phillips would know the answer to this, being our only published author right now! 
  • Check out or rent movies set in the area you are writing about. I wrote a medieval set close to the Scotland border so I watched movies like Made to Honor, Braveheart, Brigadoon, etc. Even though I wasn't physically there, I took note of things particular to that country. (Foliage, roads, rain, sun, etc..)
  • Check out documentary type or travel type DVDs at the library. You can get a lot of great information from those.
  • Check out books from the library about the country/area you are writing about. Yes, it takes longer to research, but who knows...you might stumble upon an old legend or great landmark that you didn't know about before!
  • Talk to someone who has been there or lived there. Maybe they have photographs of their trip that they would share with you.
  • The internet is a great place to find pictures of places. All you have to do is google the country/area and then search within google images to find pictures of what you need. (FYI...just don't copy them to use in any of your blogging...I learned the hard way!!!)
Those are just a few ways to learn more about the place you are writing about. You want it to be realistic. You want to transport your reader into the scene with the perfect setting. So do your research and make it REAL!

What other suggestions do you have for creating a real and tangible setting when you've never been there before?

This post is brought to you by
 Sherrinda Ketchersid

Sherrinda is a minister's wife and mother to three giant sons and one gorgeous daughter. A born and bred Texan, she writes historical romance filled with fun, faith, and forever love.


Sandra Stiles said...

When I began "Steps to Courage" set in NYC, I'd never been there. I did get to go eventually. Since the book was about 9/11 I used travel brochures, bus line and subway maps. I used postcards. I interviewed people who lived in New Jersey and had to take the subway to get the exact routes my character would have taken. I wrote to schools and got brochures about their programs. I interviewed/skyped with soldiers in Afghanistan to make sure that everything was accurate because I didn't want someone from the area telling me I got it wrong.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Great tips, Sherrinda! I love the idea of watching DVDs - now that makes research fun! :-)

Another idea I've heard can be really helpful is reading travellers' blogs. They're firsthand accounts, often with great real-life detail that you might not find in formal research.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Sandra! I am so incredibly impressive with the amount of research you do to make your writing real! Interviewing soldiers is such a great idea!! I love it. And I never thought to look into subway routes....you are so smart!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Karen, I didn't even think about traveler's blogs! That is a great idea. I'm sure they have lots of pictures that would help in description.

Debra E. Marvin said...

Google maps can help with terrain. I have used STREET VIEW to look at old buildings in a city as thought I was encountering them first hand. There are so many great options online: Temperatures, what time the sun rises in October, what plants are native, and search search search for photos and first hand accounts.

Nothing beats a visit but alas...

Writing historical settings is so enjoyable and finding the kind of details is important.

Contact historical societies or visitors bureaus or university libraries and ask if they know anyone who likes to chat about your setting and time period. It works.

I just got an email from the British consulate in NYC last week in answer to a question I posed. Loved it!

Pepper said...

Woohoo! LOVE!! and I have TWO WORDS!
United Kingdom!!
Oh lovely, lovely....

Though I've visited in Derbyshire where the English portion of my historical romance is set, there is no way I can remember everything - or even have learned subtle information while there. I definitely rely on books, pics, personal blogs, and a few friends from the area to help me along.
Any place we traveled in England, I'd pick up free flyers and brochures, because the information might come in handy - but even more important was the wording of sentences and phrases.
I have this one scene in one of my contemp romances, where my heroine is walking down a footpath in Derbyshire, and I explained the feel of the cool English mist against her face, because I had experienced it.

I'd also experienced making a complete git of myself by using WRONG words in England. (eye roll) - but those are perfect situations for romantic comedies :-)
Thanks for the fun post, Sherrinda!!

Anonymous said...

Sherrinda, this is a helpful post. I could totally see myself doing what you described at the beginning of your post--writing what I THOUGHT it would be like. Research is essential when we're writing scenes set in places we don't know. :)

I don't what I can add besides looking at travel magazines. They sometimes have pictures and articles that pick out some of the nuances of a locale. So many great ideas are already listed above that I can't think of much in the way of new ones. :)

Great thoughts today!

Sally Bradley said...

Google Earth is awesome!

My setting is downtown Chicago. If I zoom in all the way, it changes to actual 360 degree photographs. So I can walk down real streets and sidewalks and see what they look like, how the sun shines off the lake or see where the crosswalk.

It even shows the date the photos were taken so I can tell if it's spring, summer, or fall. Winter in Chicago tends to be pretty obvious. :)

Jessica R. Patch said...

I read a blog awhile back (can't remember where) and they mentioned YouTube, so I entered my last setting and Voila! People on vacation and the city itself had done several tours. It was very helpful!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Great post with great ideas! I love travelogues, newsflash I guess they would have them even for what I consider my "ordinary settings." Youtubing the city, what a great idea, Jessica! And I love Google Earth and maps! So much fun!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Ohhhhh, Debra! I hadn't thought of Google Maps! What an awesome idea! I will definitely be doing that next time!

The British consulate in NYC??? Wow..I wouldn't have thought of that either! I'm coming to YOU for my research! lol

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

LOL...Pepper, you are probably the only one I know that could make the WRONG words work!

I have felt the bite of the English wind...nippy, nippy!!! I have always wanted to see an English countryside with the early morning mist...like in Pride and Prejudice...sigh.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Jeanne!! I love it that we are like-minded! And I have not thought of travel magazines! That is a great idea. I wonder if my library has any!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Sally, the thought of being able to walk down the street of a place I have never been is just incredible! I am so excited to try Google Earth! Thanks for sharing!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Jessica!!! I never thought to try You Tube! Wow! What a great idea to tour a place through youtube! lol I love it!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Julia, my friend, what are travelogues???? I don't know that I have ever heard that term before!! Teach me, please!

Anonymous said...

The internet has been invaluable to me. Oddly enough, I used Google Earth with great success.

I had a character take a road trip from Kansas to Montana. Not only could I track his journey and place edited markers of what happened at given times, but I could zoom in and see street views in most cities. Also, many people have location specific pictures that pop up on it.

And, darn it. Just saw Sally's post. Well, I second her...

That said, I love watching movies for "research." Aside from pausing to jot notes, it almost feels like, well, just watching a movie.

PS - I love Braveheart. :)