Are you longing to set your next novel in Prague, but you've never left your own country's borders? Traveling to foreign countries is a great way to research settings for your book, but not everyone can afford a month in Europe. Luckily, there are legitimate ways to get the foreign flavor you need. Here are seven useful techniques for finding what you need to know.
1. Google is Your Friend
Have you checked Google Maps lately? The company is constantly updating their street view tool, giving you a front door look at just about any building in the world. Drill down to a neighborhood in your book's setting, and you can take a virtual walk that shows you everything from local cars to interesting neighborhood gathering spots. You'll find street signs, house designs and even basic nature tips like types of common trees and weeds in the area, all of which you can use to give your book local flavor.
2. Make it Up as You Go Along
If your book is set in one relatively small community, create your own place and superimpose it on reality. Sit down and draw a detailed map of what you think your town or county should look like. Pay no attention to actual street signs, make up your own and use them instead.
3. Pay Attention to Details
If you decide to go with the actual city or country instead of fictional setting, learn as much as possible to avoid glaring mistakes. Set a big romantic scene on a foreign bridge? Check pictures from multiple angles to look for railing designs, statues, traffic patterns and even the surface of the road.
4. Read Other Books With Your Setting
If you're setting your book in London or Moscow, read other books with the same setting. Pick out details that other authors have found important enough to put in, then do research on them to find out their appeal.
5. Learn About Local Customs
Are there any special holidays in your community? Habits that are the opposite of what you experience every day? Something as simple as having your character tip a bartender in many European bars would be a glaring error to those who know the area. Search social media spots for native citizens who would be willing to vet your book with an eye toward cultural truisms.
6. Stay Away From Language
Unless you're a native speaker, stick to English, for the most part. You may be able to add some foreign flavor to your text, but triple check the meaning before you publish a word.
7. Fake it Until You Make It
Do your best but, in the end, let the story win out. If you can't get every single detail perfect, chalk it up to the fun of writing fiction.
Keep the Faith and May the Force be with You!