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Monday, January 12, 2009


I meant to post here last night, but on a whim decided to look up an area I’m researching for my current novel. Wow! With Google Maps, I looked at it from the satellite view, zoomed up close, then took a tour through the neighborhood. There’s a little man you can drag on the screen over to the area you want and see things from the street view. Leaves in the gutter, stone walkways, who the neighbors are. You can do a 360 degree pan, and after a while I admit, I was a little dizzy.

A couple of things struck me about this form of research. It is a useful tool to visit places you’ve never been. You can see what landmarks, hospitals, bodies of water, and freeways are in the neighborhood. I was particularly interested in how hilly the area was for the street I’m researching, but couldn’t get a real feel for it. And for the time I spent, I could have driven over there since it’s in my locale. I could have taken pictures and notes myself, and had more useful material for the descriptions I need. On the other hand, if you are writing about a place four states away and need information quickly, this is definitely a great alternative to being there.

Because of the precise detail, it also made me realize that our homes and our identities are no longer our private domains. Not with satellite maps, the ability to find out addresses and phone numbers with a few clicks on the Internet, or a quick engine search to see if anything’s “out there” about a person.

For a writer, this has two sides. I want my name out there for recognition purposes. When my books become published, I want them to be found with a click or two (hopefully with a credit card purchase after the last click). But what if someone hates what I write? They. Know. Where. To. Find. Me.

This is not something I’m going to lose sleep over or which will haunt me until I have to be medicated for my paranoia. As a matter of fact, I will probably find myself on the virtual map again someday. One question is troubling, though. Whose car was that in my driveway???

Do you have any “pet” research methods? Do you snoop around neighborhoods virtually or do you prefer the old-fashioned get-in-the-car-and-take-a-road-trip method?


The Koala Bear Writer said...

I haven't tried researching Google maps--that only works if you are writing contemporary fiction! But it does sound like a good idea. I'm writing historical fiction and would love to drive/hike in the areas I'm writing about. However, not sure when I'll find the time/money to do that, so maybe online sources and books will have to work until then.

As for how much information is out there on the Internet... that's part of why I try to keep a low profile on my page, and question where I want my name and picture appearing.

D.C. Stewart said...

Definitely road trip research. Aren't you going to be writing something about England in the next couple of years? Isn't that for "research"? :)

Myra Johnson said...

I've used Google Earth to check out terrain for a setting. And then over the holidays my daughter showed me how Google Maps can zero right in on my house! I could tell the picture was from a year ago, just before Christmas (recognized my outdoor decorating scheme) and after the ice storm (limb trailer across the street). Interesting to "drive" up and down my neighborhood streets that way. But definitely a little unnerving.

I just have to remind myself the pictures don't show anything a random traveler might see if he turned up my street. And as for using them to get familiar with other areas, remember the pix are not necessarily current. For example, they don't show the two new banks and gas stations at the intersection near our house--LOL!

Myra Johnson said...

I meant they don't show anything a random traveler might NOT see.

Erica Vetsch said...

I prefer the pile into the car and go visit method, but that doesn't always work. I'll admit I've been concerned about the issues you mentioned. There are upsides and downsides to the information superhighway.

Hope Chastain said...

You're right: it's scary. I wish there were something we could do about it. It's a great little research tool for writers & burglars. We just have to pray the Lord keeps the burglars away.

I used Google, Yahoo & Mapquest maps while working on the romantic suspense book I wrote for NaNoWriMo. I set it in San Diego county, and while I used to live there, I know that things change rapidly, and I didn't want to make any mistakes if I could help it.

I find the Internet good for quick research, and it's even possible to find some historical research online. However, I love the feel of handling books. I doubt that's going to change in the near future. :-)