If anything deserves more attention in my research, it’s the setting. Not for lack of trying, though; it’s something I tend to obsess about, if you’ll remember, but the resources about my little village are sparse at best. This concerns me because character histories often depend on the character’s environment, so it’s risky not to know the nooks and crannies hidden in your location.
Enter Google Earth. I finally caved in and installed the free application on my computer. This, despite my misgivings that I would waste hours studying the landscape rather than studying how the structure of a material changes depending on the number of vacancies at the atomic level. (I’m so glad I graduated.) Heaven help me, I was at the computer for two hours squealing about all the little physical details that, without technology, I would have had to journey to the UK to see it myself.
Thanks to the internet, I did manage to find 1885 maps of the area. But seeing actual color photos of the landscape around the manor house, and the relative locations of local ruins Mary walks to when she needs to let off some steam… and then to see photos taken by other Google Earth users living in the area! Oh, when I found Wayland’s Smithy, I knew, I just knew, that Mary spent hours there as a child, and returned there when bereft as an adult.
And if this isn’t enough, I also installed Google Sketch Up, a 3D modeling application. People use it to make 3D renderings of buildings on Google Earth… you know what I’ll be doing in my free time pretty soon. Yes, that’s right, making mock-ups of my characters’ not-so-humble abodes.
For those of you struggling with details about your setting, take a peek at Google Earth. It’s free and works on all major platforms, it seems. If you’re writing historical fiction, you might have to imagine what the city looked like during your era, but many places (especially in Europe) still have the old streets and some of the old buildings to give you a better understanding of what is within walking distance, etc. If you’re writing a contemporary piece, you can watch traffic patterns, the weather, and more.
A great resource for anyone curious about the world, Google Earth is an awesome research resource for writers.