My newest novel, The Storyteller’s Secret, alternates settings between modern day and 1940’s India. Although I had not traveled to India recently, I knew how critical it was to get the setting and culture correct, so I was forced to be creative. Here are some research and writing tips that I found to be helpful when setting a book in another country.
1. Visit the country if you can. It’s a great excuse to travel.
Though not always possible, visiting the country and meeting the people will give you an experience that can’t be replicated by research. The sights and smells of the country and lifestyle will permeate your senses and come alive in your story.
2. Speak with natives.
Talk to as many citizens of the country as you can. There are countless associations and societies that cater to individuals from specific regions of the world. Introduce yourself as a writer and explain that you are working on a story set in the country. I was touched and honored by how welcoming everyone was and how open they were to answering my questions.
3. Read other books set in the country.
The writer may have done research that you missed. It also gives you the opportunity to see the country through a different set of eyes. For example, India is a vast country and no one person is going to have the same experience there. I was fascinated with how many different stories I read of people in the different regions. Even though my family is from India, I learned from another source that the same exact meal has many different names depending on the region.
4. Google it.
Really. Read as much as you can about it—travel articles, Wikipedia pages, news. Enough said?
5. Speak with travel agents.
Contact travel agencies within the country. When I explained that I was a writer in the US and wanted more information about the region, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of time a local tour guide spent with me on the phone in addition to the intricate details he shared that would have been impossible to discover only by reading.
6. Write your story.
Don’t feel constrained by the need to pinpoint every possible local behavior in detail. If there is a tradition or activity specific to the region or country, then definitely stay true to that; however, I realized early on that if I didn’t leave a little room for imagination then I wouldn’t be able to write the story I wanted.
7. Use details to invite your reader to the country.
Within the book, weave in places and factual events when appropriate to the story. Even if your novel’s setting is fictional, readers will appreciate the journey to a distant land and learning something about a foreign place. I am so grateful for the countless reviews of The Storyteller’s Secret where readers mention they feel as though they have traveled to India whilst reading the book. I even received a number of emails from readers who say they are now planning a trip there because of the story!
A former attorney, Sejal Badani is a Washington Post and Amazon bestselling author, Goodreads Best Fiction Finalist and award winning screenwriter. She was an ABC/Disney Writing Fellowship and CBS Writing Fellowship Finalist. When not writing, she loves traveling and volunteers her time doing writing workshops at local schools.