I’ve heard tell of writers who use Google Earth to explore other cities so that they can stage their stories there. They can find a dark alley off of a specific road and people it with their imagination. This far off place cannot be brought to life by the internet, it can’t communicate the sights, sounds, and smells of the area, but it can give you a general idea for blocking. That’s when you delve into your own memories of a trip to the city and pull out details that can be mixed into this foreign setting to make it real. I for one use my short time living in San Francisco in a lot of stories.
In Spark, I have a character who is a hooligan of sorts living here in the states. Now, I don’t know much about hooligans and other than watching “The Green Street Hooligans” a few times and having a fondness for films from the UK, I am not qualified to write a hooligan character. However, I did not let that stop me. Victor came to life in my head and needed to be written. He was the right man for the part.
While doing revisions I found myself questioning whether or not specific parts of his dialogue were correct. It all sounded relatively authentic to me and even passed as such with my review partners, but I needed more assurance. That’s where the net came in.
I put out a call to writing acquaintances on a forum, briefly noting the character of Victor and how I needed someone from that area of the world to look over his dialogue. As luck would have it, someone wrote back, mentioning that they were from “darkest Watford.” A quick search on Google Maps and voila, I’d found the person I was looking for. Victor’s hails from London, just a short hop skip and a jump away from Watford. The two cities seem to blur together on a satellite view of the area.
After sending her my story she got back to me with wonderful news and some corrections. The wonderful news: that I’d pretty much nailed the dialogue. She highlighted changes that need to be made, words that are technically correct and sound authentic to a foreigner’s ear but grate when heard by a local. Her fresh set of eyes even picked up things that were getting skipped over in edits because both I and my two current readers are now a little too close to the story.
The entire experience has left be very satisfied and hopeful for the future of the story. It also has proven to me how important it is to have friends, or at the very least, acquaintances in all walks of life and from all across the world.
On a side note: I once had a professor who said this idea was key to world peace. She believed that every summer children should do an exchange program to a different part of the world. That way, when they heard something on the news about deaths in Sri Lanka or natural disasters in China, they wouldn’t think about numbers and abstracts, but about the friends they made there and if they were alright.
So that’s today’s thought. Do you have a story that you’re working on that has a key part of that story being a person, place, or thing that you are not a specialist in? If so, is there someone you know that is? Find these people and seek out their help. They might reveal things to you about your story that you would have never considered otherwise. And who knows, it might even lead to world peace.