Yet writing about locales and people other than our own presents a challenge, unless one is content with cardboard characters, cliched settings, and a formulaic plot where anybody can be plugged in with equal plausibility. As an outsider, a writer could spend years before truly capturing the essence of a people and a place, but few of us have that luxury. Yet when we try to write from the point of view of someone with an entirely different life experience from us, we risk being superficial at best or fraudulent at worst. This is true when a man tries to write a woman't point of view, a middle-aged writer tries to capture a teenager's view, or a white person tries to write as an indigenous person. In extreme cases, this is labelled "appropriation of voice" and can be offensive.
Yet this challenge of stepping into another's shoes and getting it right confronts us when we write about anyone other than ourselves. How does a Canadian get inside the head of an American? A New Yorker inside the head of a Vancouverite? How does a Montreal-born Ottawa girl like me write about Newfoundland, as I did in my upcoming book FIRE IN THE STARS, and create real characters who don't sound as if they've stepped out of an episode of Republic of Doyle?
One solution is to stick as close as possible to what you do know or can find out. If you have Newfoundland friends or family, pick their brains and summon their presence while you are writing. Imagine their voices and reactions. Shamelessly base your characters on them; steal their anecdotes and life story. Read books about Newfoundland, hunt down stories on the internet, check the Dictionary of Newfoundlandese. And once you've written the book, ask your friendly Newfoundlander to read it for realism. Luckily Newfoundlanders will give it to you straight.
Another solution is to visit the place you are writing about. The amount of detail and authenticity you will acquire cannot be matched by your imagination or all the books in the world. The smell of the place, the daily sounds and sights, the way every clerk and cashier calls you "m' dear" or "darlin'". The more time you spend in the place, not doing the touristy things but wandering and listening, the more you can capture its flavour. And the essence of the people. You will still be an outsider, but your characters may do a passable imitation of the real thing.
Dialect and sayings are especially tricky. They reflect not just the geographical origin but the age, class, and sex of the speaker. Thanks to their long history of isolation, Newfoundlanders have a wealth of colourful sayings and words, many of which reflect the hard-scrabble, no-nonsense, fishing life they led. But a outport old-timer is much more likely to use phrases like "Long may yer big jib draw" and "Was ya born on a raff?" than a young "townie" from St. Johns. Aside from the risk of getting it wrong, putting too much dialect or strange words into your book makes it tough going for the reader, and if they have to work too hard, they will lose the enchantment of the story. No writer wants that! As with many things, a little dialect goes a long way.
True dat! Old trout.