Imaginary Places Vs. Real Places You’ve Never Visited

This weeks writing workshop focuses on one question: How do you prepare to write about a real place that you have never visited?

I feel like there’s a difference when your setting is imaginary versus a real place you have never visited. In an imaginary world, your knowledge rules. You can make anything you want and the readers get to experience it. Not saying it’s easier to write imaginary settings, there’s a lot of foundation that needs to be set and a lot of remembering what it is what. However, when your world is a real city that you’ve never set foot in your knowledge bows to greater knowledge. Your goal is to sound like an expert in whatever city your characters are set, so that if a person from that city chooses to read your book they are convinced by your words and better enjoy the story. For me, that’s one of the major keys of becoming a great writer – being able to convince a reader, a smart reader who knows more about your setting or your subject, that you know what you’re talking about, and that they are going to gain something from reading your work. To break that connection, that trust between author and reader, by misplacing an adjective, incorrectly describing your setting, means that you loose all trust between author and reader, and now they can not believe your setting, your subject, your character, and your story. It’s a slippery slope that can cost you potential readers and potential sales.

The book I’m writing now is set in Seattle, Washington, tentatively. I’ve researched Seattle online and tried to dig up some depth of local culture or the mood of the city. I’ve spent time watching the weather, movies set in Seattle and tried out some sleepless nights, but since I constantly worry about “author/reader trust,” I fear that the only way to really convince my reader the characters are in Seattle is more research, possibly visiting the city or some other immersion.

So my question for you all is, how do you write about a real place you’ve never traveled to and what methods of research do you use?

Also, I spent a lot of time on google maps, checking out street names, lake names, green areas, places of interest, I think I might print them up and hang them around my working area to help. I may also look up some topography maps to get a more accurate feel of the elevation levels, terrain and land formations. Still, experiencing the city may just be the best way to go, at least for a desert dwelling, Las Vegas native.

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