With NaNoWriMo wrapping up today, I figured now was a better time than any to give one important writing tip: Google Maps is a writer's best friend. I'm assuming that everyone is already aware of Google Maps and uses it religiously for their stories. Except, of course, those stories that take place in some magical kingdom of your own imagination. But for those of us who write stories set in the present real world, it can be a big help.
If you follow Joe Schreiber on Twitter, you know he just recently returned from a trip to Europe. Despite how much fun he and his family no doubt had, ultimately it was a business trip. After all, the sequel to his YA book Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick (which I predict right now will be a bestseller) is set in Europe, so he went over there to do research.
I don't blame him. If you get any excuse to visit another country to research a book and you have the time and money to do it, why not? Actually being in those locations will give you a better sense of the overall setting, much more than you could get from the satellite images from Google Maps. But for the majority of us who don't have the time and money to visit specific locales, Google Maps is our best bet.
I remember reading somewhere that in writing The Ruins, Scott Smith did not visit Cancún, Mexico, but instead researched the location from websites and brochures. Does that make him a lazy writer? Not at all. If he had the money and time and could have gone to Cancún, should he have done that instead? Who knows. In the end, what does it really matter?
Sometimes when using Google Maps I find myself becoming consumed with trying to make everything too authentic. Such as if a character is in a specific town or city and needs to, say, find a gas station, I search for an actual gas station on the map. Then I find myself changing the story to accommodate the true location. Which, if you think about it, is rather absurd. That's why, unless a story or book is taking place in a major city, I try to keep locales as vague as possible. It gives me, the author, more freedom to let the characters do what they need to do and not become restricted with "real life" ... though I must admit I still do try to keep things as real as possible.
But that's just me. Anybody else use Google Maps for their "research" or is there a better option?
And while we're on the topic (which we really weren't), did they ever capture Carmen Sandiego? Do it, Rockapella!