Fat Cat thinks it’s not a good idea to write about a place you’re not familiar with. My take on it is you go where the story takes you.
Of course, it’s ideal to experience firsthand a particular locale, but it’s not always possible. Think about folks who write about 20,000 leagues under the sea, or galaxies far, far away.
That’s what research is for.
Half of my NaNoWriMo novel takes place in Venice, Italy, during Carnival time. Although I’ve been to Venice before, I was 12 at the time, so — well, you know. It’s been a while.
Yeah, I have my Italian phrase book and Venice guidebook, along with a couple of maps I purchased from B&N, but obviously, those resources represent a small fraction of the universe of Venice, and only specific tiny facets.
This is where the Internet never ceases to amaze me.
I discovered a wonderful website called SlowTravel that has a huge archive of slow travel trip reports to dozens of different countries. And they’re a wonderful resource, these firsthand travelogues. One particular trip report was over a 100 pages long, beautifully written, and filled with fantastic details regarding food, customs, and language. That’s where I came across a comment that Italian toilets don’t have seats.
Great. Because in one scene, my protagonist suffers a very unfortunate bout of diarrhea and has to scramble to find a public toilet. I remembered the little tidbit about toilets in Italy having no seats, so I did a search to verify that fact.
Guess what? Not only does PoopReport.com have an article regarding Italian toilets, but it covers details like water pressure and what to expect in different regions, accompanied by 17 pictures. Like a toilet trip report. And they have poop reports in various destinations including Ethiopia and Iran, cleverly entitled “Travel Logs.” Who knew?
In my research, I’ve also discovered that Modern day Carnival in Venice begins with the Vollo del’Angelo, or the Flight of the Angel, during which a famous woman “flies” suspended on a cable from the Companile tower in Piazza San Marco to the loggia of Palazzo Ducale (except in 2008, when the rapper Coolio did the honors).
Since my protagonist is there to witness the event in my story, I needed to find a way to describe it realistically. Besides the numerous pictures and videos that can be found, I also found this totally rad 360-degree interactive panaramic picture that can be manipulated to look at the scene from every angle. Amazing. It’s like standing in this frozen moment of time. I can see that the sky is clear, the crowd is literally packed asses to elbows, and everyone’s got a camera held up above their heads. Fantastic detail.
Not only that, but a search of YouTube will uncover videos of almost anything you can imagine. Searching the Flight of the Angel revealed the little detail that they played “Hallelujah” over loudspeakers during the 2009 event.
So although it would be ideal for me to be able to experience all 10 days of Carnival in Venice, including all the wonderful masquerade parties and the wonderful restaurants, it’s not in the cards for me at this time.
However, that doesn’t mean I still can’t write about it, because it’s not so important that I get to go to Venice as it is that my readers get to go to Venice.
Which reminds me, my next novel takes place in mythological Hawaii. Menehune country. I can’t wait to visit.