Having lived overseas for 10 years and traveled as well, I love reading books set in other countries. Lately, I’m seeing more of these types of books and I think that’s due to the fact that the US is becoming more aware of the world outside of its borders.
There definitely has been a boom of multicultural fiction in the last decade, which was so needed. But now I truly believe its time for the market to allow books set in other countries where the focus isn’t only on Americans but on a world-view.
Some books that I’ve really enjoyed that deal with an international focus and have accurate settings are Sea by Heidi R. Kling, Heist Society by Ally Carter and Die for Me by Amy Plum.
Sea is set on the island Java, Indonesia where I lived for two years so I was curious to see how accurate Kling would be. As I read, I was transported back to those days I lived there. I remembered the first time I’d entered a local bathroom, found out about the left hand thing, and the onslaught of the rains in the rainy season. If you want a story depicting life in Indonesia, I’d highly recommend Sea.
Heist Society by Ally Carter really pulls in an international view because it’s set in multiple European countries. I love not only the intrigue, the brilliant plot of this novel and the witty, engaging characters but I love how these characters are not restricted to one country. The world becomes their playground.
Die for Me is set in Paris. Now I’m not an expert to Paris since I’ve only been there once as a tourist, but as an expatriate, I can always tell when an author knows their setting. And Plum obviously does. She has the details so perfectly captured from the cafe’s, the locals market, the words used and nuances of the culture that a tourist would never notice. But my biggest quibble which she passed (being that I’ve taught and visited many international schools) is she had the American School right too! Any American living in Paris would be going to that school and she presented it accurately as well. Kudos!
I also would recommend the review of Die for Me given on the blog hobbitsies. Excellent and I completely agree.
Things to consider when writing a book set in another country:
1. Do go visit your setting and bring along a journal. My journal was divided in categories:
- my daily experiences
- vignettes of people and places that I saw (I liked sitting in cafes and just observing a person. I’d sketch out their profile and then image a story up for them in this setting
- particular details I enjoyed- or didn’t!
- foods and their tastes
- think about the religion, their holidays and how the society interacts through those
- notes of unusual things that a tourist wouldn’t pay attention
2. I recommend seeing your setting through your character’s eyes. What would your character notice that would be unique to them? For instance, if your character is an artist, they would focus on the art of the place or if your character loves shopping, it would be the shops and merchandise.
3. Does your character or any of the characters go to an international school there? Nearly every major city has an international school or two! If you want to change the name of the school that’s fine, but I’d be wary of making up everything about the location, because you are missing a pivotal part of the culture. And if you get a reader who went to an international school, it takes out the accuracy of your novel.
Instead, I’d recommend emailing the school and requesting to interview a student or teacher from that school to find out what life is like there. You’ll be amazed at the things you learn from the culture.
But traveling is expensive and buying a plane ticket and jetting off to an exotic location isn’t always feasible. If you can’t travel, then you will have to work hard to recreate what you can’t experience. Ways to do this are: interviews, maps, movies, blogs of other’s experiences and books from that country.
- I did an interview with Kirsten on her blog A Romantic Meets the World- Soaking in your setting: Christina Farley
- Nathan Bransford shares what a great setting is here
- Beth Revis talks about the setting in a dystopian novel here but really, it’s full of great tips for all writers
What are some of your favorite books set in other countries. Please share any tips that you may have too!