Researching your novel’s locations online
This blog covers researching your novel’s distant locations online with tools like Google Earth, Street View, Estate Agents, travel and genealogical sites. The chances are you already use some of these resources for location research, but if you don’t, you’re missing out.
So, let’s imagine you live in the US, but you’re writing a novel set in Scotland. You’d love to fly over and check out your locations, but you can’t afford it or have too many other commitments.
It goes without saying that a contemporary location is better researched using, say, Google Street View. But if you’re writing an historical novel, you will still find historic districts, see cobblestone streets, old stonework, and many other useful details. Meanwhile, Google Earth will tell you a lot about topography.
Using Estate Agents/Realtors
And of course, estate agent Sites (realtors), will let you see both the exterior and interior photos of buildings. If you’re writing an historical, many of these buildings will be too new, and others will be former townhouses and terraced houses redeveloped into a set of apartments. It’s worth checking out any details on this given by the estate agent site.
If you’re looking for a fancy historic building in the Highlands, you should find something fairly easily. I’m not talking about castles, though you never know what’s up for sale.
Check out any details regarding when the building was constructed or renovated. Check the exterior and interior photos – some buildings have a lot of old features still intact. If there’s a property prospectus, download it, and keep it on file.
Check out the area on Google Street View. ‘Google drive’ around the area. Then have a look at the area from above using Google Maps – you can get an idea of where the area is located in relation to sea, lochs, mountains, etc.
Of course, you could always take a building from one area, and, using it as a model for your location, move it to another, and add in your own fictional details.
All of this applies to other locations in other countries. Have a novel partly set in Paris? Check out property sites, Google Street View and Google Maps there too.
Don’t forget YouTube and photo sites
This then brings me to YouTube and photo sites, where there is a wealth of visual information linked to different areas.
If you want to set part of your story onboard a train running on Scotland’s West Highland Line (considered to be one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world), go over to YouTube and check out any videos posted by tourists and others.
You can put together your own inspiration or location board – on Pinterest, for example.
And, remember, Pinterest is a huge visual search engine, so if you’re looking for images for inspiration or research, that’s the best place to start.
Genealogical records – a hidden resource
If your novel is historical, it might be worth checking out the likes of census and parish records to get an idea of the people who lived in an area at a particular time, their occupations, how many people lived in the building, their relationships to one another, etc. This kind of information usually comes up during genealogical searches. And if you are interested in genealogy, Scotland’s People is the best site to check out. You can also check out old post office directories.
Additionally, you might find local history groups or local historians you can contact – you might even find them on Twitter or Facebook.
Check out local writers
It’s also worth checking out writers and books from your location, to get an idea of how people speak. Some writing groups have websites, and YouTube can provide you with recorded videos of readings and poetry slams, etc.
Then there’s local newspapers, and local radio, etc.
In 2020, it’s easier than ever to research your novel’s locations online. Just be careful not to fall down the rabbit hole of endlessly fascinating facts and places. Researching the background of a novel can be too addictive. Never lose sight of the end goal – a well-researched book with a strong sense of place.
There’s another reason to research your novel’s locations online if you can’t visit in person. Especially if you include locations you know well alongside places you hardly know at all. Check out this post.
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