Writing Wednesdays: Should you set your book in the UK or USA?


Should you set your book in the UK or USA? I offer a little advice on writing a setting you're not a native to.

Anonymous asked: “Can you do a post about writing a school set in the US? Like things to remember - weather, school system etc”

In this post, I’ll talk about some helpful things to know and remember and research if you’re going to set your book in the UK or the USA and you’re not native.

My first three published novels are set in America.

One of the most important things you should do, if you’re not from the USA and setting your novel there (for instance) is to get into the right frame of mind. Watch movies in the same setting as your book will be in, watch TV shows, read novels of the same genre and in the same setting.

Let’s say your book will be set in an American high school. Things like Easy A, Mean Girls, Clueless, 90210, Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and books such as The Book of Luke (Jenny O’Connell), Lola and the Boy Next Door (Stephanie Perkins), literally anything by Sarah Dessen, The Perks of Being A Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky) and so forth are research.

You might also like this post, on whether you should research your setting.

Submerge yourself in your setting and your genre as much as you can with these things. They’ll help you get the right sort of tone, and help give you an idea of setting – in particular, how specific you need to be.

If you pick a specific location for your book, particularly a real one, then it’s vital you do some research into it. You might have to look up maps, bus timetables, local restaurants and cinemas, the weather… Of course, this is totally do-able.

However, I do recommend that you make some things up. Like the street your protagonist lives on, for instance, and the school they go to.

It’s always useful to pick at least a vague location (like a state or city) so you can research the weather. You don’t even have to state in your story that the book is set there. It’s just for you to reference. Look up the average weather for the time of year of your book, so you can say ‘it was unseasonably cold’ or have it snow, and things like that.

Another useful thing to check out is the school timetable for where you’re setting your book. Do they have five hour-long classes in the day? Do they have seven forty-minute classes? What kind of extra-curricular activities could your character be doing?

Also think about what subjects they’ll be studying. I know that in America (in many schools, at least) you can pick an elective. In Britain, you start specialising from when you’re 14, and by the time you’re 16, you’re only studying about four or five subjects. Look into that if you have to.

Restaurants (chain and local) and petrol/gas stations and other branded things are also very good to look up. For instance ‘Mom/Mum went to Wal-Mart/Tesco’, ‘I stopped by 7-Eleven/Co-op to fill up the car’, ‘I picked out X from the menu at Denny’s/Gregg’s’. Look at the menus in these places. 

Check out prices for things so you can make a reasonable estimate of how much the bill would cost. 

Also, adding in brands appropriate to your setting helps it feel more authentic for the reader.

Laws are important, too, if you need them. You might have a character who gets stopped for speeding and the policeman is particularly strict. What’s the penalty for that character? Things like legal drinking age, when your character can start learning to drive, and so on are also useful to know if you don’t know them already.


Do you set your stories in a country you don't live in? What're your thoughts on the topic?

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