Screenwriting : Writing about a place you've never been, or ever likely to visit! by Gavin D Walsh

Gavin D Walsh

Writing about a place you've never been, or ever likely to visit!

Hey guys. So.... How do we write about places we've never been, or ever likely to visit? I'm pretty much hoping for a generic answer here. With emphasis on the 'hope'. I know we have sources for research - Google and Google Maps/Earth to name a couple. But what if even Google Earth is limited within this region? I mean, it can only scan in so far., thus not really helping a great deal with location visuals. I am currently into act three, and trying to solidify my scenes from the outskirts of Kabul, leading into, and as far as the Park Palace hotel. Which is where my hostages are being held in an underground cell, and a lot of action is due to take place. Then of course, the actions leads back to the outskirts of Kabul and so on. ( for the benefit of those who have read, and are aware of my story premise) I've written bare bones version in previous drafts, but now I need to make sure I get it to the standard that will be required. Any help with this would be greatly received as I am hoping to get this draft finished as soon as I possibly can.

A. S. Templeton

Remember Hergé of Tintin fame? He researched and had others research all kinds of far-flung places and colorful, exotic prople to inform, enrich, and inspire his grafix novels... loooonngg before personal computers and the internet. I imagine such researching is about 10,000 times easier now. Seems I read sth. about how Hergé did his research and what his approach was.

Anthony Cawood

Well, we're writing screenplays not novels, so we don't need to be 100% accurate with everything and actual location details should be minimal unless critical to the script/story itself. Too much and you run the risk of 'over writing', but you can always use google to find travelogues of the area you are looking for info on, other peoples articles may give you the flavour you think you need.

William Martell

I look at people's vacation pictures and videos posted online (google) plus maps and street view and everything else I can find. I did a script that was supposed to be a coproduction with a company in a country I've never been to, and they asked when I had last been there and then talked about a street vendor where my character grabbed a bite to eat (which someone had vacation pictures of and talked about the food on their blog), because he'd eaten there, too... and it was something that only locals knew about.

Virginia Mckevitt

Hi Gavin, It’s hard to base a story only on research for a city you’ve never been to. There are little things that locals will pick up on. Be wary of writing about specific, real locations if you have little or no first-hand experience. Sometimes it’s better to make up your own fictional city and place it in the general region. But, if you wanted to write about Kabul, you need to do a lot of research. That being said, even if you do a lot of research, you might still find it difficult to capture the same perspective as the locals but this might help: Yes, use Google Earth and Street View if you can. Look for photographs. Depending on what setting you choose, you might find helpful pictures within a searchable database like flickr. Contact a local friendly paper (if you can find one) or people who live there through their blogs, Twitter, or other social networks. Ask if they’d be willing to answer a few questions about where they live. First-hand information is always best. Check out government websites. Sometimes their websites will have sections about local customs and they might also list helpful facts about states/provinces/territories and can give you an insight into the economic situation in those areas. Look for documentaries, movies and historical books set in the same location. I hope that helps.

Pierre Langenegger

Travel articles / magazines / photos. Look for freelance travel writers on the web. The good ones go into great detail that make you feel like you're there.

Phillip "The Gent" Hardy

Gavin: I've never had any problem writing about places I've never been. In fact, my friend in Germany read one of my scripts and said I was really knowledgeable about Frankfurt. He asked me if I spent time there. When I recently wrote a foot chase scene in Philadelphia, I used detailed street maps and google maps where I could really zoom in and look at building details etc. When I wrote my script about Paul the Apostle, I looked at a detailed blue print of the Herod's Temple in Jerusalem. Technology puts the world at our fingertips.

Shaun P Carr

Google is the writers friend.....maps data history.

Gavin D Walsh

Thank you, everyone. That's the problem I have. Google will only zoom in so far over Kabul. So I am limited to the detail I can obtain that way. I will try and source as many images as I can from as many different locations as possible within the general region. Hopefully that'll give me enough basic knowledge to be able to make the scenes believable?

Stuart Wright

I read trip advisor ... Many holiday makers fancy themselves as travel writers

Stuart Wright

Say that I'm pretty sure Walter Hill/Ridley Scott hasn't been to space and they made a good stab at it with Alien

Gavin D Walsh

Thanks again, everyone. I have a friend who is a 20 year vet, and he is my first port of call for coverage of my military based scenes. He has already read, and loved, scenes from within a barracks. And will be the first to read these scenes, too. You have given me a good idea, though. I am going to quiz him on Kabul beforehand, and then have him to read it afterwards. I will also combine this with research using the links provided by Oliver, and also Google earth as I have been. I can get street names from that no problem at all, but it won't zoom in close enough to see the buildings clearly enough for my liking. Thanks again to you all for your input. Much appreciated as always! :)

Geoff Webb

If we only wrote about places we'd too then we'd never have Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, Blade Runner.... It's all about the human experience. And we've all experienced that!

Cheyn Cole

Well, I would say write it how you see it. There are locations scouts to help you perfect the location. As long as you know enough about the place to write the script, someone who knows more and is able to be accurate can help you when you're ready to film.

Gavin D Walsh

Thank you, Geoff. Thank you, Cheyn. :)

Erica Benedikty

Just another resource that I like to use is youtube. There may not always be video's on the place in your story but it doesn't hurt to try. I will youtube city council meeting or events to get a sense of what the town is like and their problems, even how they talk.

Gavin D Walsh

Thank you, Erica. :)

Erick Mertz

My feeling is always that the "place" I'm writing about is the emotional connection between two people. I'm in their emotional space, something I've experienced (or can approximate...).

Other topics in Screenwriting:

register for stage 32 Register / Log In