1. Jimm79
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    Jimm79 New Member

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    how to describe somewhere you've never been?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Jimm79, Jun 23, 2012.

    Hi,

    Im based in the UK but im writing a plot for a thriller that's based in Florida/Louisiana. I've had look on youtube and a few tourist web sites but i want to get a 'feel' of the place. does anybody have any suggestions?

    Thanks

    Jim
     
  2. Amsterdamatt
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    Amsterdamatt Member

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    Either:

    a) Spend months researching online, buying guide books, history books, browsing photo websites, contact people on local forums and cultivate friendships, save up for a once-in-a-lifetime visit, and really get to know the area.

    or

    b) Make it all up.

    If your story and characters are strong enough, I really don't think it matters if you don't know the right names of streets or what kind of strip clubs they have in Miami. Consider that 99.9% of readers won't know whether you've nailed the details anyway.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    So only one in a thousand readers will have visited Miami or vicinity?

    It won't be a matter of knowing whether that a particular strip club mentioned in the novel is a mecca for the gay community. It's rarely the about the layout of an intersection you explored on google maps or the facts provided on the Chamber of Commerce web site.

    The real "feel of the place" for a location lies in the details you wouldn't think to look for, like the smell of the sewage treatment plant that wafts so appetizingly over the main shopping plaza on a hot summer's day. It's the way pedestrians go out of their way to smile and give a quick nod when passing someone, even a stranger, on the street. Or it's the smell of eucalyptus and almond blossoms on the breeze on a fine spring day. (These are all different locations I know well). In theory, you could research all this. In practice, there is no substitute for visiting in person.

    Nearly every novelist who writes stories set in Boston or Cambridge mentions Mary Chung's in Kendall Square, Cambridge at some point. You'd never understand why unless you have been there, and few mention the surprisingly unimpressive interior of such a storied restaurant. But you can tell when they know the restaurant's flavors.

    I could go on about the non-obvious details of many places I have visited, but the point is that they are the details you KNOW if you have been there, and would never think to look for if you haven't.
     
  4. Darkkin
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    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

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    Like some of the previous posts mentioned research via the internet and travel guides. Check for TV specials, as well. They can offer surprising, often quirky insight. Try reading fiction based in your target area, too. See it through another character's eyes, along with your own.

    - Darkkin, the Tedious
     
  5. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    You could post a few specific questions in Yahoo , stating that you're a writer doing some research.
    I haven't actually tried this but I've googled some questions and found some good answers there.

    I try collecting a lot of informative stuff - National Geographics , regional cook books recipe sites , guide books ,
    - anything that is rich in description is helpful. ( I haven't been anywhere outside of Canada myself! )
     
  6. Siren
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    Siren New Member

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    1. You can make up the town that its in.
    2. You can explore the area via google maps
    3. You can research the area and talk to people from there.
    4. You can go there for a visit.

    To get you started, what I know about the area, albeit from an outsider's perspective (I'm a norther-easterner, who lived in the south east for a few months and now lives in the UK)

    - The southern US has a 'culture of honor'. Research this. It's important.

    - Be aware of demographics. There area I was in had a high minority population and there was 'unofficial' segregation. (I got shit the whole time I lived there because I sat next to the wrong 'group' on the school bus. They also put me in classes based on my race instead of academic level.)

    - The weather is hot and muggy. There are crazy thunderstorms and lots of sunshine (compared to the UK).

    - Kids seemed to experiment young.

    - The law enforcement is serious business and the prisons are supposedly hardcore.

    - They say Y'all, and speak slower (compared to northerners).

    - The civil war is still a sensitive subject to some people. (and a source of pride for others, for ex. I had a teacher who thought the South had won)

    - People are friendly. Way friendlier than in the UK and in the North.

    - I remember seeing lots of trailer parks, usually in a lot behind a huge gorgeous house. There's lots of open highway and plots of land. The closest school for me was 2 hours away. There was also a factory somewhere that made the whole area smell rancid if the wind blew towards us.

    Not sure if any of that helps. Good luck.
     
  7. thetyper
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    thetyper Member

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    Well, you need to use all your senses to take a reader somewhere there properly, and Google can only help you with a few of those. I have written about places I do not know, but when I do so I make sure to keep it brief and not make any howlers. Google, for example, is not going to help you understand how humid Florida gets or the atmosphere when you walk into a remote gas station and talk with a foreign accent, etc.
     
  8. aimi_aiko
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    aimi_aiko Contributing Member

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    Just use research and pure imagination. Your setting doesn't have to be precise, yet, unless you want it to be an exact setting; but I find that hard for someone that's from the Uk and never been to said area. I would suggest watching movies in which the setting is in the US, and you can get the feel of the areas and what they look like.
     
  9. Estrade
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    Estrade Member

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    Not really a "plot development" question. (Forum?)

    Google Earth / read a handful of good novels set there / watch a load of films set there / go there on holiday.
     
  10. YugiohPro01
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    YugiohPro01 Member

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    Look I would just say make it all up and write what you think you would smell or see, but I do believe you need to do some research. Read some books on it, watch movies etc. Or, if you haven't written to much already on the story just set it in a fictional universe(at least that's what I usually do).
     

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