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When Writing Fiction, Beware of Using Exotic Names and Places You Don't Know

As authors, we want our stories to whisk readers away to interesting, immersive worlds. In an attempt to make our settings more exciting, some writers choose exotic character names or faraway fictional places without having personal familiarity with those cultures. However, this approach carries risks.

Readers from those cultural backgrounds may find such portrayals inauthentic or inaccurate. Details that seem intriguingly "foreign" to you as the writer may inadvertently play into stereotypes or misrepresentations. Even if you do extensive research, there's no substitute for lived experience when depicting a place and people accurately and respectfully.

Additionally, many publishers are wary of manuscripts set in countries the author has not spent significant time in or has ancestral ties to. Unless the location is integral to the story, they may see an unfamiliar setting as a potential liability. Readers likewise may not connect as deeply with places that feel random rather than rooted in the author's direct knowledge.

That doesn't mean you must restrict yourself only to writing what you already know intimately. Imagination is a powerful tool, but should be combined with diligent research, cultural advisors from that community, and seeking early feedback to avoid problems. Also consider whether an exotic name or location truly serves the essence of your tale, or is just decorative. Sometimes a compelling story can unfold even in ordinary places close to home.

Ground your fiction in specifics you can depict accurately and concisely explain if questioned by editors or readers. Thoughtfully chosen details make a world seem real and textured without heavy embellishment. Don't let superficial exoticism substitute for rich, nuanced setting and characters. Craft your unique story against a credible backdrop readers will believe in.

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