HELP -- Question on setting fiction in actual cities

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HELP -- Question on setting fiction in actual cities

Postby Switch » Wed Dec 21, 2005 6:55 am

Hey, how're you all going?

I have a question that's bugging me. I write a lot, mostly wierd fiction novels and recently I've begun developing a storyline which I love to pieces. The tone and feel of the storyline, I feel would fit in a place like London, yet, I've never been to the UK at all.

So my question is, how effective is research in writing about actual places, when you've never been there before? Would setting my story in London, without any personal experience of it make it feel cheap?

Read National Geographic

Postby admin » Wed Dec 21, 2005 10:26 am

Of course, your novel about London is not going to sound as authentic as Neal Gaiman writing about London, but a writer cannot experience everything first hand. The main thing is -- don't make stupid mistakes. Don't attempt to imitate the accent in your dialog. Don't have your characters say "bollocks" and "mate" all the time. If you don't know about something, leave it out -- the reader does not need to know which underground your hero took. But do read up enough not to call the London underground a "subway". Read several National Geographic articles on the city, and take notes. Then drop in a small number of telling details, and get on with the story.
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Fiction settings in real cities

Postby Krraklvtt » Sun Jan 01, 2006 10:56 am

Hi. you might also try to get a good pictoral book on today's London, and visiting some websites on the real city. Travel sites are good.

Postby Brightonian » Mon Jan 09, 2006 10:37 am

As a Londoner by origin I'm genuinely curious: why do you feel that London is an ideal location for your story, particularly if you've never visited the UK?

Does it perhaps feature cocaine-addicted detectives riding hansom cabs through gaslit fog? ;-)

Or does it have a more contemporary setting?

Postby Evaine » Mon Jan 09, 2006 1:24 pm

Charles de Lint solved the problem for himself when he invented Newford, a Canadian city, because he felt he didn't know cities like New York well enough to place his characters there. He also sets some of his work in Ottowa, which he knows well.
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old saying

Postby admin » Tue Jan 10, 2006 9:54 am

"Write what you know." is advice often given to would-be writers. I have mixed feelings about that. Certainly, I don't set every story I write in a place I've visited -- but I do if that makes sense in terms of character and plot. And I rely heavily of things I've experienced to add detail to even the wildest sf or fantasy.

On the other hand, one of the delights of sf and fantasy is the frission of the new and unknown. Jack Vance, in particular, is a master at making unearthly settings seem real. Certainly, his fiction would be less if he had followed the advice to write what you know.
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Postby jdalton » Sat Jan 14, 2006 8:34 pm

I have to believe it is possible to write a story about a place you've never been, otherwise I'm in trouble. But it IS a lot easier if you've been there. Sometimes you just know an author has been to a place by the incredible depth of their descriptions.

The best advice (short of flying to London and spending a week here) would be to do lots and lots of research. Books are good, movies are good, maps and Google are great, and Google Earth is my new best friend for checking out what a place really looks like. And if you really want to be sure, run your story by someone who HAS been there when you're finished- just so they can catch any mistakes.

And for the record, lots of people in London (especially East London) call each other "mate." I got called "mate" just this morning. :P

Jonathon Dalton
A Mad Tea-Party

Postby hU$h3rN7242c » Sun Feb 05, 2006 11:36 am

There been a lot of good advise already handed out, but I thought I would add to it.

I have been in the same position that you are in right now. I've had to write about London and try to make it feel real. I started at the book store and picked up a street map. Even if I get some other things wrong, a street map can help give some authenticity. My wife lived in London for a while, so that has helped. I asked her about things like the slang that they use (instead of police or cops its Old Bill or Bobbies). Ofcourse, the real problem is getting as authentic as you can. For that reason, place the events close to landmarks, or wherever you can find pictures. Previous posters have recommended using NG and other magazine. That's the way you do it. Just remember, if you don't just craft it from scratch and want it authentic, there is a lot of work to be done on research. It can be daunting, but if handled well, it gives credibility and atmosphere.
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Postby ronian » Sat Mar 04, 2006 12:56 am

London is such a cool place, and somewhat romantic i wish i could get there soon!
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Postby hegemon » Mon Mar 06, 2006 8:17 am

I visited London last summer, and had a great time. Be sure to visit the modern Tate gallery, which has a five story high giant spider on display. Also, take the boat trip down the Themes to Greenwich, where you can see the chronometers that made possible the British empire. And London also has great theater -- I saw The Lion King in New York, but I saw it again in London, and was glad I did. Also saw a play by Harold Pinter, whose name I forget.

Of course, what would be really fun would be bar crawling with Neil Gaiman -- but he lives in Minnisota or some such place now.
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Re: London

Postby jdalton » Tue Mar 07, 2006 2:45 pm

hegemon wrote:Of course, what would be really fun would be bar crawling with Neil Gaiman -- but he lives in Minnisota or some such place now.

Yes, but at least you can see all the places he mentions in Neverwhere. I've never been able to look at Centre Point tower the same way since.

Also worth seeing are the British Museum (with the plundered remains of many a civilization), Kew Gardens, and I think you should take a quick stroll through the East End (home to as many colourful characters now as it was in the days of Jack the Ripper or Captain Cook).
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Postby Evaine » Sun Sep 10, 2006 2:21 pm

Beware when it comes to British slang - I don't think anyone calls the police "Bobbies" now.
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