Monday, July 18, 2011

Writing about Faraway Places

QUESTION: I want to set my novel in India, but I've never been there. My main character comes into India from America. Can I pull this off?
I'm a born and bred Southern, and I can almost always tell when a non-Southerner is writing about the South. Words and expressions are used wrong, facts are wrong, the texture of the landscape and weather is wrong, etc., etc. That's one reason I rarely stray from the South as a location for my books since I'm probably as culturally clueless about other parts of the US as these people are about the South.
You will have the advantage, though, of having a stranger come into India so mistakes made in her viewpoint will be hers, not yours, in the reader's eyes.
The culture and landscape will be so vastly different that anyone from outside would be overwhelmed by its alien quality and miss much of the nuances. Essentially, that means that she will view India as an impressionistic painting, not as a photographic image, so that certain things will connect with her senses and others will be missed.
My major suggestions are to read recent travelogues about that area as well as watch TV show travelogues. Memoirs from Americans or Europeans living in India should also prove to be a valuable resource about the clash of cultures.
The Internet is a wondrous resource, and it's very easy to connect with people from all over the world. When you have your work in a readable form, try to find people who know that area to read those parts of the books. That should help, too.
HAVE A WRITING QUESTION?: Feel free to ask me via this blog or by email. My address is marilynn byerly @ aol. com (Remove the spaces)