Choosing a Location Where the Writer has Never been

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  • Choosing a Location Where the Writer has Never been

    Is this a bad idea from the get-go? I'm not talking about a different planet where nobody can challenge you but rather a place on earth. Places like Africa (did the writer of Holiday in the Wild with Rob Lowe go to Africa or was born there?) or Asia.

    I was thinking of googling for my info. Would that be enough? I can't believe every writer who has written about some exotic locale actually went there first. Or maybe I'm wrong and they did.

    Any advice/tips greatly appreciated.

  • #2
    Re: Choosing a Location Where the Writer has Never been

    Of course they haven't. You can do research, talk to those who have been there, watch documentaries about it. You don't have to have been there.

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    • #3
      Re: Choosing a Location Where the Writer has Never been

      Researching info online and via books, videos, etc. should be more than enough. You will surely know more about that location than surely anyone reading the script at that point. Also, if it's a really great story, they can always hire an "expert" to come in and consult. Things (might) change when production comes around -- they usually do.

      Something such as you not having been there shouldn't slow you. People always love to say, "write what you know." But really "know what you write about." You can find tons of info out there on just about any place, person, event, etc. You should be fine.
      Will
      Done Deal Pro
      www.donedealpro.com

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      • #4
        Re: Choosing a Location Where the Writer has Never been

        Re: "write what you know."

        This exactly what's been in my little brain that's been troubling me. And that other caution... not passing the "smell test."

        Thanks guys.

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        • #5
          Re: Choosing a Location Where the Writer has Never been

          Consider various resources. Years ago I lived in DC and I later wrote a script based there. I had good knowledge but when I wrote a sequence that tracked with a runner, I looked at a map through the monuments. Then I looked at images at various times of the day and year. It helps a lot with setting tone, mood and style.
          "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

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          • #6
            Re: Choosing a Location Where the Writer has Never been

            Buy travels book about the country. Especially off the beaten path guides that give info on non touristy areas.
            Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

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            • #7
              Re: Choosing a Location Where the Writer has Never been

              Just gotta do the research. I wrote a pilot about 1970s Detroit, which I have never set foot in and I was like 5 years old anyway. The most frequent positive comment I get from readers on it is the authenticity of the setting. Immerse yourself in everything you can get your hands on even if you never go there (but go there if you can swing it)

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              • #8
                Re: Choosing a Location Where the Writer has Never been

                Originally posted by JoeBanks View Post
                Just gotta do the research. I wrote a pilot about 1970s Detroit, which I have never set foot in and I was like 5 years old anyway. The most frequent positive comment I get from readers on it is the authenticity of the setting. Immerse yourself in everything you can get your hands on even if you never go there (but go there if you can swing it)
                I agree that exhaustive research can be useful, but I'd be cautious of the sources. Using only travel guides and other encyclopedic sources may give a superficial, regional view, and miss the deeper, personal flavor of a region.

                I grew up in 1970s Detroit. A writer would do well to know about the back alleys where kids fought and played, Town Club vs Faygo, how desperate folks used the Detroit River for suicide, the sights, smells and sounds of a tour through the Ford Rouge Plant, what it was like for laid off autoworkers to search the grimy machine shops on Van Dyke for a job, the mafia-owned Italian bakeries in the suburbs, how fun it was as a kid to run behind the trucks spraying DDT on the dying Elm trees, etc.

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                • #9
                  Re: Choosing a Location Where the Writer has Never been

                  Guys, these are really, really great insights!.Thanks.

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                  • #10
                    Re: Choosing a Location Where the Writer has Never been

                    I use Google Image. Find what looks like your location and go from there.

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                    • #11
                      Re: Choosing a Location Where the Writer has Never been

                      I did an entire script in a state I'd never been using internet research per these suggestions, but I also found a writer from there to help ensure I was on the right track on the place and the way of life as well. I think it turned out nicely, and when I had a fellow read it who lived there he said to me "there aren't parking structures there, just parking lots."

                      I felt okay about his single suggestion in my 100 plus page script

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                      • #12
                        Re: Choosing a Location Where the Writer has Never been

                        Bear in mind that you can't answer this with a blanket statement. For instance, I have been to Africa, and I can tell you that culturally I would have no idea how to have written Africa had I not been there. Meaning the nuance of it all. But, the simple idea that I was in "Africa" is not so simple because I went to one country only, and there are thousands of cultures there.

                        I have lived on a few continents, and the way of life is extremely different in different countries. Without spending a few years in a place, you will likely lack nuance.

                        But, if you are from USA and writing about another part of USA and have met people from that area, visited areas not too dissimilar to it, it is probably doable.

                        I'm not opposed to writing about people and places you don't know intimately. But you are going to have to work 5x as hard to do the research and even after that will still need to consult with a few people who know.
                        Last edited by Merrick; 05-04-2020, 03:38 AM.

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                        • #13
                          Re: Choosing a Location Where the Writer has Never been

                          Originally posted by Merrick View Post
                          Bear in mind that you can't answer this with a blanket statement. For instance, I have been to Africa, and I can tell you that culturally I would have no idea how to have written Africa had I not been there. Meaning the nuance of it all. But, the simple idea that I was in "Africa" is not so simple because I went to one country only, and there are thousands of cultures there.

                          I have lived on a few continents, and the way of life is extremely different in different countries. Without spending a few years in a place, you will likely lack nuance.

                          But, if you are from USA and writing about another part of USA and have met people from that area, visited areas not too dissimilar to it, it is probably doable.

                          I'm not opposed to writing about people and places you don't know intimately. But you are going to have to work 5x as hard to do the research and even after that will still need to consult with a few people who know.
                          This is the entire job of writing. Better get used to it.

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                          • #14
                            Re: Choosing a Location Where the Writer has Never been

                            Err ... I'm not sure that's the entire job of writing? Plenty of people write about their own immediate surroundings and life situations.

                            The OP is asking about a place they've never even visited? That's pretty disconnected in my opinion. A male can write about a female, but a male has encountered and spent vast hours with females before doing so and has some context.

                            Looking at photos on a web search and reading wiki entries alone - is it enough for context? I would absolutely suggest to visit the place when possible if you have no context at all to it.

                            It can be done without it, but you're making the job tons of times harder than it needs to be.

                            I have written about cultures outside of my own, but I've at least visited.

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                            • #15
                              Re: Choosing a Location Where the Writer has Never been

                              Choosing a location... and making it realistic...

                              On this, I'll bring up that example I wrote about in another thread, that involved my doing a ton of research on Scottish brogue and Cockney:

                              re: Writing gotta (etc.)

                              I checked my folders list and found nearly a dozen links of the applicable slang, including: UK - American translator, Cockney rhyming phrases, Scottish slang, Contractions of negated auxiliary verbs in English, old Scottish sayings, Glasgow patter, English to Cockney, ... sheesh. As I wrote there, a lot of research - and I've found that typically I only end up using about 20 percent of my research in the final result (which is pretty painful).

                              And, yes, I noticed variations in each 'list' of phrases, but I still thought I had it pegged well enough; it's just a script, after all.

                              But then all of us saw user 'Crayon' response to my post, who writes my example very differently - because he's from that specific area of Britain.

                              I thank Crayon, but it's a script from 2011 and I'm not going to recheck all my sources and rewrite the thing. I think any non-British reader will 'get it', and UK-readers who'd produce the thing for a British audience would rewrite it anyway (not to mention rights clearances, finding ways to reduce the budget, etc. etc.).

                              There's only so much you can do.

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