I frequently get asked what my research process is when writing about foreign settings, so I thought I’d share a few tips.
(Note: These don’t have to be lands far abroad – this advice applies for any locale that is unfamiliar to you.)
Make the Place Integral to Your Story.
Don’t treat exotic locations as window-dressing or mere armchair travel. Your setting should justify itself as the one and only place in which your tale can unfold.
Mine Your Setting for Character Development.
Is your protagonist returning to her childhood home, or running from the law? Does he feel trapped by his surroundings, or comforted? Use these situations and perspectives to create intersections between backstory and the present, or to discern and develop characters’ identities.
Concentrate on the Small Details.
Everyone knows icons like Big Ben or the Hollywood sign, but it’s your job to take them deeper. Weave in sensory descriptions that are meaningful for your protagonist. Search out those place names, haunts, and foodstuffs only a local would know.
Keep Your Touch Light.
Readers crave authenticity, but they’re seeking an engaging story, not a guidebook. Concentrate on integrating what you’ve learned into your manuscript, rather than bending over backward to prove you’ve done your homework.
Prepare, Don’t Procrastinate.
Information gathering is key, but so is forward momentum. Compile what you need, then get moving on crafting your narrative.
Reuse Your Research.
Looking to build your author platform or publicize your work? Utilize all that material you’ve collected as fodder for nonfiction articles or essays. (This is a great strategy for authors who’ve traveled as part of their research efforts.)
Save Your Receipts!
If you filled your gas tank on a scouting jaunt or made international phone calls to speak with an expert, keep a record of your running tab, as these expenses may be tax-deductible. (Consult with your tax professional for the most current information.)
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