Monday, November 2, 2020

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 Southerner, 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.  

I would be beyond clueless about another country, and I’d think long and hard about spending a whole novel there.  There's also the issue of not understanding certain cultural norms which can land me in a culturally insensitive pile of crap of my own making which would not just hurt the book but my reputation.  Considering all that, my answer would be nope, not a smart idea. 

If you choose to write that novel, you will have the advantage, though, of having a stranger come into India so some 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. It would not surprise me if YouTube isn’t full of American adventures in India.  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. 

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