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I am an aspiring writer from Pakistan. It's a south Asian country rich in culture. Our cultural heritage and history is very interesting, twisting and multifaceted. However, I have grown up reading and watching a lot of American books and movies, mostly contemporary. My problem is that no matter how fun and interesting my culture is, it is Definitely Not American. The outfits, the live style, the buildings, the roads. Nothing is similar.

Whatever story ideas that come to my mind are always set in an American contemporary setting. Since I have never been to America or any other country with similar culture, I don't find myself having enough authority to write my stories. I also want to write thrillers but the justice system in my country is inefficient and the whole cop culture of America appears so fun and interesting on the media. You can also experiment so much romantic actions between two American characters while in Pakistan it doesn't resonate. Even the names that come to my mind are 'Amanda' 'Sylvia' 'Adam' 'Ray' etc.

Sometimes I feel so stupid while writing these stories of mine because I am not from their culture. And what if the information I provide doesn't match with the facts? That will make me an unreliable writer. I want to craft amazing contemporary romance and thriller and South Asian societies do not offer that. Plus, I am not very much interested in my culture. So, this becomes my biggest obstacle. Help me.

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    It's perfectly normal to write in the fictional genre that you enjoy. USA is not actually all cowboys and and private eyes, just as England is not all cozy murders in quaint villages. Fiction, especially genre fiction, is its own reality. It's not your burden to represent your country or culture through writing – and it's a long tradition to use a pseudonym so the work stands on its own (if you are feeling obligated or uncomfortable to represent).
    – wetcircuit
    Jul 7 at 21:58
  • Okay psedonym sounds like a good idea. Thank you
    – Khan
    Jul 10 at 11:15
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The general advice for writing a culture or a viewpoint that isn't your own is to do plenty of research. Ideally, you want to visit or live there. Second choice is to interview people from that place. Third choice is books and other media from there --which you already seem immersed in. Definitely find someone from that culture to read your manuscript and tell you where you've gone wrong.

With that said --I'd highly suggest you rethink this goal. The publishing world and the reading audience really both prize authenticity right now. It's impossible to outdo a native in that department. You're also competing directly against a crowded market --there are already so many other books from the viewpoint you're trying to emulate, most of which are written by people who have lived it. Writing a book from your own viewpoint as an American-influenced writer living in Pakistan could really make you stand out from the crowd.

Don't think it has to be ultra-traditional, either. Haruki Murakami became internationally famous for writing books with a very American style, but set in Japan. There must be other Americanized young people in your country. Think about writing a book for that target audience. You could set it in an English-language school, or at an American-style restaurant. Or, it could be about people who live in Pakistan but WISH they lived in America (maybe a forbidden, American-style romance for two teens who meet up over the internet). Or write it as a fantasy or science-fiction novel, and you don't have to stick to reality at all. I personally make it a habit to try to seek out fantasy and SF novels by people who are NOT writing about white Americans. (It's nothing against white authors, but I've already read so many of those books --I'm looking for something different.)

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    Yes you are right, this is actually the point that always comes to my mind right after I create a story concept in my head. Authenticity
    – Khan
    Jul 13 at 15:22
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    Glad it was helpful. If you like these or any other answers, please be sure to vote them up with the little arrows. You can also accept an answer if there is one that is particularly helpful. On a side note, I run a group for writers from diverse backgrounds on Scribophile. You would need to join there first (it's free to sign up) and then search for the group "Diverse Futures." Jul 13 at 15:34
  • I am Joining it
    – Khan
    Jul 15 at 13:49
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Rethinking Genre:

Although you want to write in a contemporary setting, I'd suggest that to overcome your concerns about realism and getting details right, write in a slightly different genre. There are a wide variety of fantasy, science fiction, and alternative reality stories that would allow you to take all the unique and special elements of your culture, and apply them to a much more 'American' style, with free cultures and different styles.

Imagine, for example, what a society of vampires might look at from a Pakistani tradition, living in an alternate future where Pakistani vampires influenced history, taking control of the British Empire. America might have lost the revolutionary war, until the native American werewolves helped them achieve independence. Or imagine an alternative country with a different history, a fusion culture where the practices and values of both blend together (to great dramatic effect).

With increasing levels of fiction, you can write about your rich cultural tradition, but draw on the aspects of Western culture you appreciate. I think of the book When Gravity Fails, a sci-fi novel about an Algerian man searching for identity in a cyberpunk future. The culture is both deeply Muslim and deeply Western in values, and the struggle between the two is the stuff of amazing drama.

So if you feel like you have a lot to offer to the West with your culture, but you feel drawn to all the West has to offer, look to a world where you can control the rules and influence how reality plays out. Literary agents are hungry for well-written diverse cultural material, and if you have a society touched by a different set of rules, then any minor discrepancies between reality and your world will be chalked up to the very real differences as portrayed in fiction with some alt or fantastical element.

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The good news is that from a legal standpoint, Pakistan and America aren't too far separate and both use Common Law for their court systems (The big difference is the ~250 year divide when the U.S. broke with British and added a codified constitution to further govern it's laws (the UK is today one of the few countries with out a codified constitution in the world).

The thing about America that baffles a lot of people is that the U.S. is freakin' huge! It is the 3rd largest country by land area (Behind Russia and Canada) and by population (Behind China and India). There are states that dwarf countries and people from certain states get stereotyped for certain traits like many countries do (I.E. All Californians are far-left Hippies, All Texans are gun carrying cowboys, and All Floridians are either old, crazy, or both. In reality there is a sizeable conservative base in California that is mostly found away from the coastal urban areas, Texas has very liberal areas in Austin, it's capital, and El Paso and has been turning less reliable for the conservative politics. And Florida isn't any more crazy than any other state in the union, it's just got some quality journalists and the "Sunshine Law", their equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act, renders most state government actions very open and accessible to the public).

The big challenge for many people not familiar with the U.S. is that they can't comprehend that sheer vastness of size, though regional cultures do tend to grow develop in all nations, it's just very prominent in the U.S. because of the size of the region.

I've found that to best understand a foreign country, it's best to understand why the things they enjoy in their culture are enjoyed so much. For example, Americans often get stereotyped as being loud and rude by non-Americans. A lot of that is because Americans have a tendency to be open with what upsets them in part because Freedom of Speech Laws in the U.S. are some of the most liberal in the world (Which makes Americans very open with each other about what's bothering them... and very honest about it). The Rudeness stems from the fact that until the internet allowed communications with people from around the world, Americans didn't do much foreign travel (Only about a third of all Americans hold a valid passport... with an equal amount having never held one in their life and the rest just never bothering to renew it.) and weren't used to the idea that what they see as normal others will see as rude (It's not just a big deal rude too. In Japan, leaving a tip for the waitress is considered a huge insult. In the U.S., not leaving a tip is considered highly rude, even if the service was terrible.).

A lot of behavioral attitudes of any nation are found rooted in their nation's history and identity. For example, one thing a lot of foreigners can't understand is the American Gun culture and specific members within that culture stating they keep their guns in the event of the U.S. Government going rogue. The response being that "they can't take on the greatest military power in the world", forgetting that the U.S. was birthed from a war where they not only did just that, but won (and that war was started when the government came to seize weapons from what was... at the time... the edge of the frontier...).

One option you could go with is to make your PoV character(s) Pakistani-Immigrants (American's love an Immigrant's tale because they usually tend to show America as a place with faults but one that is still filled with promise of a better life). That way you can have a voice for your own perspective and to help you focus your understanding and expectations in contrast to what you see. A big thing to remember is that film and TV depictions of things are not always accurate nor as exciting as depicted.

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  • Thats what I am saying every culture is different and people living in it knows more about it then an outsider. I don't want to appear a wannabe as a writer rather someone who is authentic. As far as immigration is concerned. This is actually a very good advice thank you.
    – Khan
    Jul 10 at 11:16
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    @Khan The good thing about the U.S. is that we take pride in the fact that our culture is a nation of Immigrants. It's okay to ask Americans to look over the details for minor problems. The addage "Write what you know" is the worst advice to give a writer IMHO. You should write about what you want to, whether you know about it or not... but write about it with enough research to convince the reader you are an expert.
    – hszmv
    Jul 12 at 11:42
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Straight up man, learn this difference:

A journalist reports on events, an artist invents. There is a difference, then, between a writer and a journalist. A journalist sticks to the facts to his or her best ability; a writer, an artist, uses facts but also twists them to forge truth from both fact and lies.

Do what you want, but don’t feel stupid for wanting to mix things that don’t align with the whole truth; this is art. You want American culture in your work, do it. You’ve never been to America? Use your imagination.

Do you need to interview American people to make it plausible? Maybe, but an artist, remember, invents.

Be free. Permit yourself that freedom. This is your work.

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  • Thank you I am glad I posted this question. Every response is making me motivated one way or the other.
    – Khan
    Jul 13 at 15:21

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