I want to start this post by saying I’m not a stalker or spy of any kind. Sometimes you have to do slightly weird things to get knowledge…
All of my novels so far are set in the USA. Someone once asked me why, and I honestly don’t know. It’s not a deliberate thing I’ve done and it has made writing about the locations a little difficult too. Setting a story in the areas I’ve lived and know well makes more sense, but it hasn’t happened - yet.
I’m a visual learner, so when I write I like to have some sort of image I can use as reference. This is where my favourite tools come in.
Google maps and Google earth
Google maps is one of the best ways of seeing where I want to base my stories. I use the satellite function and print copies of the areas. It’s helpful for determining routes, and Google also has a distance tool so I can make sure my characters don’t walk two miles in ten minutes. Street view is another tool I use, particularly when you need to know which side of a building the entrance is, and what it looks like from street level. You can get a good feel for the area by using these tools.
Okay, I’ve been told this is a little creepy, but do you know you can use traffic cams, etc, through the internet? This gives a real time perspective on locations: how busy is it, what does it look like at different times of the year? I once dropped in on the traffic cameras as a blizzard struck Washington DC and was able to see how the snow built up, what vehicles were still around, and what happened once the storm had passed in terms of snowplows and the melting rate of the snow. All useful information.
These provide the greatest resource for me. There are so many photos available on the internet that it is usually possible to get an appropriate photo to for the area under research.
Ask the locals
Ask someone who lives in the area, or who has lived in the area. They will be able to give you the local knowledge that cameras don’t provide – especially when it comes to weather
There is a huge range of websites that provide all kinds of information. They include:
Without all of these tools, writing a story in a foreign country would be almost impossible. There are advantages to living in the age of the internet! It’s remarkable how familiar I have become with some of the places I write about, and without visiting them – yet.
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