While it may be inadvisable to base a whole novel, short story or even an article around a place which we have never visited – especially if we happen to be a writer of little experience – there can be occasions in a writer’s career where he or she simply has to write about such a place. It may be a fantastic novel which we are writing which has to include the character briefly visiting such a place or it may be an article for which we are offered an excellent commission and involves at least referring to such a place. Whatever the circumstances, we have to ensure that we write as authentically about the place we have never visited as possible.
The principal and probably most obvious way in which we can find out about such a place is by researching it. While it times gone by this could of course have been an extremely laborious process, involving many hours spent pouring over research books at a local library or even brochures obtained from a local travel agent, the modern day of the Worldwide Web affords us fantastic time and effort saving tools in this sense. What we simply have to be careful of is that we do not take all of our information from one source, however reliable it may appear to be, as for all we know, the author of that piece may never have visited the place either!
The first step therefore is to perform a Google search on the place we have never visited. The chances are that we will be returned several thousand results, if not more. What we have to do is view at least perhaps ten of these pages, from the first few pages of the Google search results, and take detailed notes from said pages as we do so. If we can find perhaps a YouTube video recorded by a visitor to our destination that would be even better. There is no better way to obtain authentic information when researching such a place than to see actual footage of it.
It may also be possible, however, that although we have never visited the place in question, we know someone who has. If this is the case, we should ask that person if they would mind helping us lend some authenticity to our writing about it. We first of all ask them questions and take notes as we would have done in research, but very importantly, we subsequently ask them to read our draft or finished work and ask them if we have represented the place effectively.
The third way in which we can obtain information on a place which we have never visited is by e-mailing others around the Web and asking for help. This may be the local tourist authority, it may be someone on an online forum dedicated to the place, or it may even be someone on the likes of MySpace, if we perform a search on that site for people local to the area. The likelihood is that we will find many people, so we have to be polite and respectfully request assistance.
By performing any one – or even better all three – of the above research techniques, it should be very possible for us to write fairly authentically on most places which we have never visited and give our readers a balanced and informative description of same.