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Setting the Scene: 3 Tips for Researching a Location

“Write what you know” isn’t always the best advice, but “write what you know of” usually is. When it comes to setting, a little research can help a lot. (You don’t need to be a native of Nashville, Tennessee to set a story there, for instance, but you do need to know a little bit more about it than just its association with country music.) Here are a few tips for setting the scene when it’s a place you’ve never been.

1. Map it out.

In this case, Google is your friend. You can use Street View to explore avenues your characters might walk and to get a sense of where things are in relation to each other. 

2. Read the local news.

Search for a news site that reports on the area you’re writing about. Pay special attention to quotes from residents (though bear in mind that these residents might differ from your characters in age or other demographic factors). Even if there’s nothing much to read, that still tells you something about the kind of place it is. 

3. Check out museum websites.

Even small towns often have a museum, cultural center, or other institution dedicated to preserving local history or tradition. Looking at their websites can give you insight into the values of a region. If your characters don’t share those values, it’s still likely that the existence of those values in their environment would affect them in a significant way.

Have any other tips for developing a setting, sight unseen? Let us know in the comments!

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Val O.

Ask me about Pennsylvania.

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