I am a strong believer in writing what you know. Everything I write is at least partially based on something that I have experienced.

My problem is that for plot reasons, I need one of my characters to grow up in a culture and environment I am not familiar with. I need at least a chapter in that area. My goal is to portray the culture and belief of that region as a native.

I thought about reading books located in that area and maybe speaking with natives. However, it is in a region that is not portrayed in movies and seldom in books. Yet enough of my potential readers are familiar enough with the area to spot made-up things.

Are there any methods to facilitate simulating an empirical knowledge of a relatively unknown area?

N.B. this is not a duplicate of Writing about a subject on which you have no expertise?, which is about technical writing.

I found a partial answer in How to do research to write characters from a different culture?

  • 1
    I wonder if it would be possible to do a compromise such as writing about someone from the area who wants for some reason to escape from it and tries to act like someone from elsewhere (like a small-town person trying to act like a sophisticated big-city person in some old movie). You still need to do your research but hopefully any small slips could be put down to the character's "acting". Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 7:11
  • Google articles that list common misrepresentations of the topic in fiction. (You'll probably end up on Cracked.com.) Avoid those particular errors. That might be all the knowledge you need for this.
    – J.G.
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 15:44
  • Isn't the answer to questions like this always the same? Research, research, research. Research doesn't always mean the internet or the library. It sometimes means going to the place and/or talking to the people and/or learning to do the thing yourself. Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 15:55
  • Do your best with what you can find, then find a beta reader from that specific target group and specifically have them check the consistency of said chapter
    – lu_siyah
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 16:57

3 Answers 3


The bit "Yet enough of my potential readers are familiar enough with the area to spot made-up things. " leads to the conclusion that you should not do this.

Unless you want to invest the necessary time researching and reading about this community, then, it seems a recipe for disaster.

If you don't have any experience about something, you will always get interested about different aspect of it, or present it in a different light. That shows up, and not in a positive way.


I am writing a story set in the US during the 1920's.

Even though this is in the US, I'm only 60 years old so this is a different culture from me. I have been doing a lot of research as I've been writing. From the hotels for rich people and what floors they would have been on, to what a gun might be called, to what cars would be on the road, to what might the laws be like, to what sort of musical entertainment might have been available in a speakeasy.

Google has been my friend! This is what introduced me to the Stack Exchange community.

If you can't be there in person, then do the next best thing: research. In a few weeks I'll be watching some movies set during the 20's and 30's to make sure I've got the slang right.

At least the characters speak English!


In my experience as a reader, most writers who have done this successfully seem to have spent a lot of time interviewing a range of people native to the area. I don't think there's any great shortcut around this. If you don't want to, or are not in a position to do that kind of research, you might want to replace the real location with a fictional one. Of course, that will just replace the effort put in on real research with worldbuilding.

A good example of a novel successfully written from interviews (although I'm not personally in a position to judge the accuracy of the result) is Pearl S. Buck's classic The Good Earth. The book presents as extremely authentic, probably because it's a composite story built from the real life experiences of innumerable villagers whom Buck personally interviewed.

I can sympathize with this question, because I dislike research, and avoid it when I can. But I've come to accept what a decisive difference it makes to the final result.

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