You’ve heard the saying, “Write what you know.” It’s advice most writers will both give you and adhere to. It’s easy, safe even; but what if you don’t want to do that? What if you want to write a story set in another country? Another city? Another culture?
So you do that, but what if you don’t know much about said country and culture? You could either start writing with little to no information or you could begin researching the world.
I was probably one of the lucky ones who was able to write about a group of people from another country without many problems. Then again, I wasn’t. I was once a fanfiction writer for a British pop group. I was a teenager then, so obviously my writing wasn’t that great.
Before I wrote my fanfiction, I started off reading other people’s works. At the same time, I was reading British classics for school. I couldn’t stand those books since the characters talked with a pompous attitude. But it was different with the fanfiction written by the British fans of that said British pop group. The characters talked like normal people and I actually liked those works instead, no matter how fluffy the stories were; or how bad the writing was.
So I started writing my fanfictions, but I didn’t do much research regarding what was in London besides the obvious. I also didn’t look much into British culture. I just figured it was similar to American culture. Now I want to burn those stories for multiple reasons, and the lack of research was one of them.
Currently, I’m working on a story that’s set mostly in Britain with British characters. I’ve made sure I’ve done my research on their culture, their dialects, and their cities. I want to do everything the right way and respectfully.
What To Do
About a week ago, I taught a class regarding the topic of story research. The tools I suggested to use were Google Maps (both traffic and street view), regular Google, and Wikipedia. I highly suggest using those tools.
When you need to study the culture of a country, use both Wikipedia and Google. Look up articles about the people that live in those nations. Look at the photos of what the people look like. Sure, you could read classical works from whatever nation you’re researching on, but keep in mind that the people living in those nations today are not the same as those from a hundred years ago or so. If you’re going to read books from those nations, I highly recommend reading current works from the authors from that said nation. They would write their characters realistically, and not like clones of Mr. Darcy.
When you’re using cities for the setting, use Google Maps to study the traffic and the surrounding area. For example, the title character of my current story is from an English town known as Penzance. It’s a small town, but I recently used Google Maps to check out his hometown. That’s what you can do when you’re researching cities that you’ve never been to.
Overall, using the tools I mentioned will be very useful when you begin writing stories set in worlds outside your own. Google, Google Maps, and Wikipedia are very helpful for your research. Trust me, you don’t want to be that girl or guy who didn’t do much research for their British fanfictions. You want to be better than that, including writing fanfiction about foreign groups, like the current crop of Korean pop acts. Do your research, and you won’t feel like burning your work; and you won’t offend the people from those nations.