1. Ross O'Keefe

    Ross O'Keefe Member

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    British Writer - American Setting?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Ross O'Keefe, Sep 17, 2017.

    Is there something undermining about a British writer setting his stories in America (or elsewhere too. I've written stories set in Canada and a fictional village in Africa)?

    I obsess a little that it in some way compromises the integrity of my storytelling
     
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  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I set my stories elsewhere, often.

    I think if you're shooting for a real "examine the culture" approach, it might weaken your writing (unless you have a lot of experience with the culture and have the benefit of an outsider's perspective...). But if you're just writing about individual characters? People are people. You can get someone from the culture in question to read the work over and make sure there are no obvious glitches, and then I'd say you're good to go.
     
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  3. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Lee child is British - it hasn't done the 20 or so books he set in america any harm.

    My current WIP is set in America .... it doesnt do any harm so long as you do your research
     
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  4. Ross O'Keefe

    Ross O'Keefe Member

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    Yeah, good point!
     
  5. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Probably an idea to allow an American beta (who lives there now, if it's contemporary) read the finished product, but I don't see why not.
     
  6. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    I obsess about this too, but mine is mirrored.

    I think an English setting would cheapen the story, in the same way I feel English actors cheapen big Hollywood productions.

    Luckily I like to write futuristic stuff and don't feel the same need to use real place names, as I would if I set it now. For this reason I set my stuff in an undisclosed country, that reader's will hopefully surmise is probably America. The reason I don't go all out and set it in America is because I don't know the country well enough, to pull off the authenticity.
     
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  7. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Senior Member

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    Is there something undermining about an African writer setting their stories in Japan?
    Is there something undermining about a Chilean writer setting their stories in Greenland?
     
  8. Ross O'Keefe

    Ross O'Keefe Member

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    Potentially. If their account of the setting is distracting in its inaccuracy, or if a reader does not believe it, then it has undermined the story. The setting can be as much a character in a story as the protagonist / antagonist
     
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  9. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    I think you've confused people with your choice of words, @Ross O'Keefe. Asking if something is undermining, suggests 'wrong'.

    For what it's worth I agree with you. If you're going to set your story in America, you're going to have to do more research than you would if the setting was your own country. If you don't think you can pull it off (as I don't believe I could) then you need to rethink.
     
  10. Moon

    Moon Contributor Contributor

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    Just make everyone fat as hell with a love for guns, Jeezus and freedom - can't go wrong. :p (I'm kidding.)

    I wrote a story where the main character was Japanese and decided it best to look up the culture so I made it as correct as possible. Learnt a lot about Japan an its conformist society, which was interesting, but important for the story of Genzo and his missing wife Kana. Doing research is the best way to keep it believable.
     
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  11. Ross O'Keefe

    Ross O'Keefe Member

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    Apologies.

    I was using 'undermine' in the sense of lessening the effectiveness of the story, which I do believe would be the dictionary definition.
     
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  12. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Oh, the word is correct. I think maybe it's just my interpretation of it.
     
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  13. Sclavus

    Sclavus Active Member

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    It's all about execution. I've read and enjoyed stories set in all kinds of places the author had never been to, because the story was written well. I've also trudged through stories that weren't written well. The Dark Fields by Irishman Alan Glynn was undermined by his use of non-American phrases and some misunderstandings of American culture. As an example, I seem to recall the protagonist saying he was eating a biscuit. In context, it didn't make sense, because Glynn was describing what's called a cookie in the United States.

    If you've done your research and had betas critique the hell out of your work, then you won't undermine the story. There were a ton of European actors in Black Hawk Down, but they got their American accents down, and acted in a way that seemed typically American. Eric Bana, Jason Isaacs, Orlando Bloom, Ewan McGregor, Ioan Gruffud, and more all did an excellent job at portraying their American characters. Even knowing those actors aren't American, I could barely tell; there's only a few times Ewan let his accent slip, but he didn't talk much.

    Do your research, and you'll be good to go.
     
  14. Xboxlover

    Xboxlover Senior Member

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    I think when writing either or a good thing to think about the language of the book. I'm finding little things out here and there I didn't know before just being on here. Grey verse Gray. I use them interchangeably. I've seen both I'm American. Most American's use gray. On my computer, if I type grey in this type box it highlights as red as spelt incorrectly. Though when I posted up a thread earlier this week I saw different spellings of it. I had a moment of a double take and looked it up because spelling either way from me has been second nature. (Learning to become more critical with my writing.) I would say when creating American Dialogue I would try to use American spelling to show the culture a bit and vice versa with British. I think people spend way too much time on accents and showing them in writing through dialogue, and my favorite approaches I've seen while reading doesn't do this with dialogue so much as with describing a character's voice instead of favoring odd spelled words like Wutch you say..... or Warsh instead of wash... (Shutters, not everyone talks like that.) Instead of using misspelled words to create a sound in accented voices, simple state the character has a thick southern American accent at the beginning of the story and we can follow and imagine it throughout the entire story.
    I don't know if anyone will agree with me on this, mostly just a personal opinion. As for writing the overall story, I think if you are a native British English speaker don't betray your obvious preferences in the narrative it could add color potential. Unless of course, you intend to write the whole entirety of the book in American English to represent the setting as a whole, then I commend you for giving it a shot. It's more work than I'd be willing to do. XD I guess blending the language styles would be a very hard thing to do if I'm not mistaken?
     
  15. Xboxlover

    Xboxlover Senior Member

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    LMAO because for the most part its true! I live in Utah. Where I'm living I just read an article on my country and we are officially the most armed area in the country hitting number 1 in the states. WE beat Texas. Ahahah we dropped to number 2 since I last looked at this. http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2014/08/31/take-a-gander-at-americas-most-heavily-armed-counties-the-ones-that-arent-on-the-map-might-surprise-you/ whatever anyway. So the reasons out here vary a lot for gun owners. Anything from 2nd amendment rights to the pure love of target shooting and protection. A lot of Americans believe an Armed society is a polite society. And some people are ridiculously misguided on their spending and look at guns as a status symbol or are plain out of control with their spending. A friend of mine after he got a divorce his retail therapy went out of control and he owns like 27 rifles and 8 handguns and he's purchasing like 3 more this month. (Mostly antiques collecting ww2 to Vietnam with some modern.) He loves to restore them and target shoot. He's not much of a hunter, but I know he's huge on safety and security, he's insured all his weapons and has them all in several huge safes to bar theft. Most American's that own a gun or two won't invest in a safe but hid them in underwear drawers on the top of the closet shelves in mom and dads bedrooms or in hidie holes with easy access for protection. In some state check the laws if you plan on using guns in the story, some states have an open carry policy. Here in Utah, it's open carry. (Open carry is different from concealed carry.) Concealed carry is illegal without proper licensing and paperwork. With open carry in this state, a gun must be visibly seen on a person's body and are at least 2 actions away from shooting. Meaning the safety must be on and a band around the pistol so that it is a slower draw. Most people to be safe out here do 3 actions, holster, safety and not chambered. YOu should see how many people come into the Walmart out here with pistols on their person. I feel safe out here and I love it because I know all these people out here will protect me if someone decides to loose a screw. A lot of people I know out here are very well trained in hunter safety and take gun safety seriously even civilians go out of their way to train to a military degree of gun control and safety.
    Guns are an expensive hobby though don't mistake that. That's why I brought up the fact on misguided spending. My dad is a terrible example of financial responciblity like most American's I know. There's personal debt and medical, most people I know fit both. Though its possible to be financially responcible and be in medical debt at some point ones life like I am after having a kid. That's normal and healthy.

    ETA: Common misconception even in America, you don't have to be a redneck or an extremist conservative to own a gun and or multiple guns and enjoy there uses. I have liberal friends who like shooting and have several guns. (Don't believe me start talking around a bit, although I'd say its outside the norm.)
     
  16. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Potatoes again? Supporter Contributor

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    [​IMG]
     
  17. Xboxlover

    Xboxlover Senior Member

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    Why would anyone want to shoot a house cat? That's sick.
     
  18. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Potatoes again? Supporter Contributor

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    A venomous housecat, go to the original thread for context.
     
  19. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    Because they taste pretty decent with a bit of catsup.
     
  20. replicant

    replicant New Member

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    British person here. For a long time, I used to wonder and obsess over whether the New York I had seen in movies and books and TV shows was anything like the real New York. Then, I finally got to take a trip and to my wonder, it was exactly like the movies. Right down to the hissing steam vents.

    The only things you can't glean from research is that intangible 'feeling' of being in a place —the smells, sounds, and minutiae of being on ground level (I recall constantly looking up, awed at just how tall the buildings were). But the imagination can fill in these gaps pretty well, and you will end up with an impressionistic portrait, rather than a photograph, of the place (and isn't that the goal of writing, anyway).

    For big cities like New York, Los Angeles, etc., it's pretty easy to capture an accurate portrayal if you do enough research. A little more obscure, out of the way places where Google Maps can't reach are a little more tricky, but hey, Stephenie Meyer wrote about Forks never having set foot in there, and I don't think she did a halfway bad job.

    I think, as long as your American setting is 80% research and 20% creative license (or thereabouts), you'll do just fine.
     
  21. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    Sure there is. Luckily, most people will never venture into most places, so most of them won't know as long as you don't try to sell any incorrect details. That said, my favorite trick for selling knowledge in something I'm clueless about is detail--it's just important not to pick the wrong ones.
     
  22. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    It was a small monster with the size and ferocity of a venomous house cat if i recall correctly
     
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  23. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    I’m sure it’s fine. Just do your research and I would certainly have an American beta read it. You’ll surely use colloquialisms from the UK without even realizing it that we simply don’t say over here.

    I would specifically try to use small towns or places like that because they tend to have local idioms anyway.

    Also, when doing your research, make sure it’s current. Slang moves very quickly and goes out of date usually within a decade.
     
  24. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    Why not travel to the place you intend to set your story in and spend a week or two?
    There's no substitute for getting your shoes muddy and experiencing it firsthand.
     
  25. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    As long as it's not specifically about 'the American experience', I think that it should be fine--with some research, of course.

    But do be careful of making assumptions, because the US has a whole lot of different cultures, and the cultures change--sometimes within a few miles or a few years.
     
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