1. Yitz
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    Yitz Member

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    Writing about a setting in a place you've never been...

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Yitz, May 6, 2009.

    Hey all...


    I've been working on something for a little while, but I need some ideas.
    I'd like my setting to be a big city such as New York, Philly, Boston, Chicago, and the like. The problem is that I've logged very little time in a big city. San Diego has most of that logged time, and I feel as though I wouldn't even write about SD simply because I know nothing about it.
    So what do you do? Google maps, a little imagination, and perhaps a friend that lives there?
    Lately I've been in a funk...I'm realizing that I know nothing at all. I'm afraid to write anything because of my limited knowledge on everything. I'm only 26 now and I'm realizing that I don't know anything about anything. It makes writing rather difficult.
    Thoughts, ideas, suggestions?
     
  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Haha I'm having exactly this problem right now. I know enough about the place to know that my plot can work there, and I have reasons for setting it there, but I don't know enough about the place (London) to write convincingly about the locales. My solution: head to the research forum and hope someone here can help!
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The old adage is, "Write what you know." The corollary would have to be, "If you don't know it, research it until you do."

    If you haven't the experience of a setting, and your readers do, they will know you are making it up. Google maps won't do it. A friend who lives there MAY be able to help, but most people aren't observant enough to provide you with the level of detail a writer needs.

    Every city has its own distinct "flavor", and it's tough enough to capture it even if you know the city intimately.

    The days of te armchair novelist are gone. You have to get out into the world to be credible.
     
  4. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    I'm not sure if this solution would work in your story, but maybe your lack of knowledge could be transferred to the character.

    Example: your character is new to the city too, therefore it’s to be expected that their knowledge of the city is superficial.
     
  5. rainshadow
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    rainshadow Member

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    That's usually the step I take. If I move my characters into a setting I don't know, I make sure they're every bit as lost as I would be. Granted, if it is a work I am very serious about, I take the effort to learn as much about the place as I can.
     
  6. daydreamer
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    It's very hard to convincingly set a character in a place you don't know at all unless they are as lost as you would be. Research will tell you a certain amount but never as Cogs says "the flavor" of the city and those little details that make a story feel real.

    You could probably get away with it with others who don't know the place but anyone who lives there will see through it immediately.
     
  7. rainshadow
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    rainshadow Member

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    All too true. I'm sure a vast majority of authors out there follow the method of trying to get away with it. ;)
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    even if the character is 'lost' there, the details you include will still have to be authentic, so it's still a problem, if you don't know the place... imo, you should stick to places you know, if you want your writing to work...
     
  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Um.... tourism is down... tickets are cheap... go?
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you are a writer, the travel costs may be tax deductible as a business expense (research). :)
     
  11. joemister1221
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    joemister1221 Member

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    I think you should write what you know, but if you decide to make the setting Boston, I could help you. I live a little south of Boston but I've been there many times and can give you a sense of what it's like.
     
  12. Yitz
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    Yitz Member

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    I appreciate the offer, Joe! I may take you up on that.

    I would love to go see the world...however, as of last week I am unemployed.
    This leaves me with a dilemma: either write a best selling novel in record time, or get busy doing something that pays the bills!
    I have lived most of my life in towns of 150,000 people or less. This story really HAS to take place in a big city I think. I'd love to discuss the plot more openly, but I once read about discussing unwritten plot, and how it is like unto letting all your creativity out too early and how it affects your writing. Perhaps I am superstitious, but I follow the rule closely.
    Well it would appear I have some things to think through. Perhaps a drastic change in plot is necessary. :)
    Yitz
     
  13. Emmy
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    I can kinda sympathize. My problem is remembering. My family has lived in a small lakeside community since I was a child, and we visited often for summers and holidays. When I was a teen, I lived there full-time until a couple of years into college. Now I'm basing my story there, but I'm having a heck of a time remembering some of the finer details.

    My solution was to call out friends who still live there and ask them questions to help jog my memory. One friend has been exceptionally helpful, so I'll credit him in my work. I just can't believe how much I've forgotten. It makes me feel a little lost at times.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    true, but that only works if you make money from your writing... sad to say, you can't get away with going year after year just trying unsuccessfully to sell stuff, while still deducting all of your writing expenses... ;-(
     
  15. Still Life
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    Still Life Active Member

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    For a fictional story:

    My creative writing teacher would always stress that: It's fiction. Lie, but lie well. A bit of research wouldn't hurt, though I do feel that not enough weight has been stressed on using your imagination.

    I'd suggest taking Dave Guterson's approach with Snow Falling on Cedars (or Matt Groening's with The Simpsons): set it in a fictional city and use your imagination along with what you already know.

    I'd also suggesting doing some legwork by watching films or reading books or travel articles on the setting of your choice. Just to get a feel of the place.

    I'm 23, and I don't even know my way around Los Angeles (big city), and I've lived here and in neighboring cities for nearly a decade. I believe this is because I'm one of those "armchair" novelist(wannabes) Cogito mentioned in an earlier post. I keep having a feeling I've zapped all my spatial memory cells, and that's why I'm so navigationally/geographically-challenged. The most I can do is memorize street names, but I've managed to convince the person that I know what the hell I'm talking about just by throwing in descriptive directions in my stories, when, in actuality, if you were to navigate using the directions given, they would probably lead you to a dead end, or straight down to jagged rocks over a cliff, or something...

    Of course, many people here will warn you against the above (read: the "write what you know" mantra), but I think what's more important than getting the minute details of the setting correct, is to appeal to the reader's natural, five senses. I'm sure you'll succeed in convincing us if you keep that in mind.

    For non-fiction:

    Travel there, and then research like a madman.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I think you have three years to make a profit (in the US). Plus you stand a good chance of being flagged for an audit, and if they don;t see evidence you are really trying to make a go at it as a business, they can throw out the deuctions and charge you interest and penalties on the adjusted taxes due.
     
  17. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually, there are two possibilities: writing as a primary business and writing as an incoming-producing hobby.

    In either case, you can deduct costs of "doing" business. The difference is that a legitimate full-time business make take losses that exceed income, providing a nice tax break against such things as un-earned income, or income from another occupation. Such losses may even be carried over against future earnings. On the other hand, the Hobby-loss rules specifically limit deductible expenses to an amount equal to, or less than, your total earnings from the hobby-activity.

    So, if I go to Boston to research a book. and I can prove that my full-time income comes from writing, then I should be able to take the write-off. But, under the hobby-loss rules, I can only deduct those expenses to the extent that I had writing-income to offset.

    There are some additional rules for the writing profession that make it a bit more difficult to take all your losses as full deductions. For example, I tried to deduct a $700 cost for a computer program (In-Design) that I bought for manuscript layout and I could not take the full deduction in one year. I just went over this with my CPA because I am taking some deductions for 2008 under the publishing company that I established.

    The profit-loss rule Cog mentioned -- three years of profit in a five-year period -- applies to ALL businesses. If a business is not turning a profit three out of five consecutive years, then the government will demand to know why the business has not been bankrupted or dissolved. It is possible to get extensions beyond the basic test formula, but the business will have to provide proof of reasonable expectations of profit in the future and each case is granted only by negotiated exception.

    Sorry for getting off topic . . . just wanted to clarify the deductible expense rules in association with conducting research using first-hand travel.
     
  18. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    Well I know Stephen King mostly wrote about what settings he knew and that was Maine. But when he had to expand his universe he gave a sort of explanation to those people of the Cities that he used. He told the citizens of the Towns/Cities there was no disrespect if he misrepresented them at all. I think if you do something like that there's no harm. In his Novel it was necessary to use the entire US though. So I would make sure it's necessary that you need to use a big City or something like that. Like if you need giant sky scrapers you aren't going to use Waco, TX or if you need a MLB team you aren't going to use Buffalo, NY.

    Oh the book was "The Stand." However, I haven't finished it yet.
     
  19. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Pick up some books about the city. Some travel guides that have photos, and some novels that bring the city to life. Or any other types of books that bring the city to life.
     

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