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What do I need to do, as an Indian writer, if I want to make British or Americans the main characters in my book, and make the whole story revolve around them in any other country?

In general, is it a good idea for a writer to write about people and places they don't know that much about, and if so, how should they go about it?

  • Welcome to Writing.SE! I'm sure there's already a question here somewhere about writing stories that take place in countries outside of where you live. I'll have a look for it. In the meantime, please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site, and I hope you stick around! – F1Krazy May 10 '18 at 10:30
  • Well, what of it? Just write a story about Americans in another country. Where's the problem? – I have voted to close this question as unclear what you are asking. – user29032 May 10 '18 at 11:42
  • To follow up with what @Cloudchaser said, is the purpose of this question asking how to write about a culture/people group you aren't a part of and don't know very well? – White Eagle May 10 '18 at 12:15
  • I'm sorry, @ChrisSunami, I have voted to leave closed. I don't see how you can know what the OP wants with this question. I'd rather wait for them to edit this question themselves. – user29032 May 10 '18 at 13:33
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    Karl May did this and got one of the best-selling German-language authors of all time (with “this” I refer to “not being personally familiar with”; of course he did proper research). – celtschk May 10 '18 at 20:56
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Another consideration not yet mentioned is the question of whom you are writing for. If you're an Indian writing about Americans in a book published in India for an Indian audience, the bar is probably much lower than if you're an Indian writing about Americans in a book to be published in America for an American audience. The more familiar the audience is with the culture in question, the more likely they are to catch any small errors.

As to how to go about it, you'll need to become familiar with the culture, both in terms of real life and in terms of fiction. In addition to researching any specific topics, read fiction by natives of the culture similar to what you're aiming to write.

If you're still unsure of your ability to convincingly convey a native of another culture, one option might be to tell the story from the viewpoint of a native of a culture you are familiar with. For example, you might tell a story about an American couple but your viewpoint character might be an Indian co-worker or an Indian exchange student they are hosting in their home. Any mistakes or cultural misunderstandings might then be attributed to the view-point character rather than the author.

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You mean, what if you're a resident of country A, writing about a citizen of country B travelling in country C?

Go ahead, enjoy yourself. Jules Verne, for example, had never visited the places he wrote about: Africa, Australia, the Pacific etc. The MCs of his Les Enfants du capitaine Grant are Scottish, while he, of course, was French.

However, make sure you do your research. Prosper Mérimée, for example, had not done his research when writing Carmen: it is very clear that he hadn't so much as looked at a map of Spain while writing, let alone visited the country (views, travel distances etc. are all wrong). As a result, the book is a storm of clichés about Spain [TV TROPES WARNING]. This makes the book feel stupid and annoying. You don't want that.

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    Yes, it was very common for the writers in the past. Some of Shakespeare's greatest works are set in places he never visited, and the stories are showing good authenticity. – Alexander May 10 '18 at 17:06
  • Of course, these writers never had access to the Internet. Not to mention the high price of books. But Shakespeare's ability managed to make up for the lack of information. – NomadMaker May 13 '18 at 6:46
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The Easy Part.

You have the Internet! You can research places, slang, and to some extent the culture of Americans, or British, in order to write your story. You have travelogues, you have some American comedy and talk shows (to show you what Americans find funny or enjoy talking about), you have American blogs, American twitter, American YouTube, comment areas on Huffington Post and other sites; even sites like this to pick up speech patterns and American slang.

The Hard Part.

A plausible American / British attitude (For people raised British or American) toward life, risk, sex, romance, work, possessions, their standard of living, what they tolerate in culture you would shun, what they shun that you would find inoffensive.

I can think of a few imperfect solutions for this dilemma:

1) Read. Read analytically other fiction with American/British main characters, and pay close attention to cultural portrayals, especially those that seem foreign to you. It may be things they don't care at all about (e.g. homosexuality, atheism) or things they DO care about that seem wrong to you (eg. gun rights for Americans, respect for royalty (or hatred of it) for British.)

2) An American raised in India. The child of an ambassador, for example. They can have a mix of cultures.

3) Sidekick POV. Add a minor Indian character to the crew, and tell the story through their POV. Much like Dr. Watson was necessary to the Sherlock Holmes stories, told through his POV, even though the hero was always Sherlock. As an Indian you can tell the story through an Indian POV about a foreign crew in a foreign land. Then you are "insulated" against some misinterpretation of the foreign culture.

None of these are perfect, it can be difficult for anybody to properly portray a culture they did not grow up in. Particularly in regard to sensitive cultural issues: Racism, sexism, homosexuality, religion, women's rights, employment rights (like unionization), what the law allows (business is more highly regulated in the USA than India; e.g. with sexual harassment laws, equal rights laws, etc), including in the USA what people can sue each other over.

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I would advise caution. In the modern, globalized world, people prize authenticity, and mistakes are easy to catch.

At one time it was quite common for people to set satirical or exoticized stories in foreign cultures they knew next to nothing about, and these were often quite popular. Gilbert & Sullivan's Mikado is a good example. It's putatively about Japan, but it's actually a satire on British culture with exotic costumes and made up customs. It was one of their biggest hits, but today people would find it offensive and call it cultural appropriation.

My best advice would be either to do some intensive research, ideally including travel to the place you are writing about, or to make up a fictional country which resembles the one you want to write about, but which doesn't need to be accurate. Otherwise, even if you publish only in India, there will be plenty of readers with firsthand experience of Britain and America who will see right through you.

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