Ask the Author: A Sense of Place

One of the things I want to do with this blog is to answer questions that I have received related to writing. I was at a writing gig last night in my hometown, and I thought that one of the questions asked was excellent. The person said that they had noticed so much detail in the first part of Exiled Heart that they wondered if I had ever lived over there.

My short answer is no. I’ve never lived in Saudi Arabia or visited there. I can translate that to: How did I make the setting so real? I read–a lot. I went to the library and checked out every book I could find on Saudi culture. It wasn’t much, so the next thing I did was to purchase a couple of books off the Internet to round out my reading. To gain a better idea of Islamic culture I also passed along a draft to a couple of friends of mine who had lived in Pakistan over the years and knew the Islamic culture very well. Finally, one of my content reviewers has indeed lived in the Persian Gulf, and he provided what I called the finishing touches that really helped the manuscript in terms of making Islamic and especially Saudi culture real.

So far as Charleston, that was the easy part. I’ve visited Charleston several times over the years, which has allowed me the opportunity to get to know the city very well. Also, having grown up in the southern culture, I had a pretty decent grasp on how it functions.

The best way to gain an understanding of a setting, not only physical but social, is to read and research. In addition to books, I also utilize the Internet a whole lot. It’s great to find the answers to instantaneous questions like the name of a street or quick information on some celebrity. I will caution, though, against letting Wikipedia become your only source of information. It’s great for quick facts, but to get more in depth information, it’s best to go to other sites or other sources entirely. In terms of geographic information programs such as Google Earth and Google Map are great resources.

Another source of knowledge is indeed letting someone who has familiarity with your setting read your manuscript and offer suggestions. I know that sometimes that may be hard, but it can be of great help. The key is to be open to their ideas because usually those ideas make the manuscript stronger.

Finally, another way to make a setting familiar is to let it take place in the area where you live. I’m not specifying an exact place or city, but in the general area. For example, I’ve set at least parts of many of my manuscripts in North Carolina since I live here and grew up here. That’s because I’m familiar with much of the state.

In a nutshell, that’s how my settings are authentic.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Get in on the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

No Comments