Before I jump into this week’s post, I just want to say THANK YOU to everyone who gave an opinion on last week’s post. Your feedback is so helpful. It’s looking like the orange background is going to win it, but I’ll let you know when I make my final decision. Okay… onward!
Today I want to share a brilliant new writing tool I discovered while working on my novel: Google Maps Street View. It’s so obvious I’m kind of embarrassed that it took me so long to take advantage of it.
Using Google Maps to “See” a Place
Around page 98, my main character drives through a small town outside of Barstow. In editing, I realized that I didn’t really illustrate the scene very well. I couldn’t, because I had never been there, and therefore had no concrete details to share about it. Then it occurred to me – I don’t have to go there.
I pulled up the town on Google Maps, chose a corner that made sense for my scene to take place on and dragged the little yellow man into place to get the street view. So awesome. It was all tall signs and squat buildings in dusty shades. I “rolled” down the street a bit to see how the road slowly transitioned from sun-bleached town to lonely desert. There were two traffic signals.
A Word of Caution
Researching a place this way, I couldn’t smell the air, or notice how the people interact. I couldn’t feel the heat of the day on my face. I couldn’t hear the whistle of a train in the distance. There’s a lot you can’t get from “walking” down a street virtually, but if you’re just looking for a detail or two to set a scene, it’s amazing.
That said, I would never have used this trick for getting to know the main setting of my story. If I had tried to portray an ostrich farm without actually going to one, the story would have surly rung hollow. Because it’s those precise details (the heat, the train whistle) that make a reader feel like their with their narrator in the world of the story.
Also, I think it’s one of the biggest perks of being a writer that you can go anywhere and investigate anything in the name of research. Show me a writer who hasn’t worried about the FBI scanning their browser history and I’ll show you someone who writers boring stories.