A question came up in one of my Facebook writers’ groups today—is it all right to write about a place you have never visited?
It is certainly best to write what you know, but that is not always possible. In your research of a place, do not forget to understand its geography, what plants and animals live there, and what the climate is like, especially during the time your story is set there. Investigate the local cuisines and dress and other cultural aspects. Then, create a character that is that place (and, now I realize, I should do this). Describe if it is hot or cold, dry or muggy, dusty or moldy, noisy or quiet; how it smells; what colors it is; if the buildings or rocks or whatever are rough or smooth, spiky or rounded. If it is very hot, describe how the air feels entering a character’s lungs, or how their lips dry and crack. If it is very cold, describe how their toes get numb and, the longer they are outside, how the cold creeps across their feet and up their legs. Those are the showing things you can use to describe a place you have never been. It helps if you are describing something you are at least familiar with, even if you have never been to the exact place.
If you have never been in snow, felt it touch the skin on your cheeks, made a snowman, or run outside in your bare feet just to see if you could make it to the fence and back, then you will be hard-pressed to be able to describe it. If you have never tried to sleep when the temperature is 90°F, the humidity is 98%, there is not a breath of air moving, and the cicadas are so loud you can’t hear anything else, it would be hard to pretend you know what that feels like. Your readers who have experienced these things, they will know.
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