Monday, June 27, 2011

As I continue to wallow in WIP, you tell me: Researching a setting

Thank you guys SO much for all your comments on Friday. June has been a crazy-making month, and I really appreciated all your kind words, as well as your encouragement as I began writing a new WIP. It also sounds like several of you are actively engaged with your own WIPs, so I thought we could take today to discuss research, and specifically, researching a particular setting.

My new project is set in a place I've never been. In two of the three manuscripts I completed before I started this one, that was true as well, but that was because the settings of the manuscripts were, in large part, made up. One is set in the afterlife, and the other is set in futuristic, post-climate-disaster Boston. The other was set in present-day Michigan, and I made liberal use of Google maps, and especially the street views, to walk myself through and help me add accurate details to my setting.

This new project takes place in Ireland. Rural Ireland. Never been there. And I'm not Irish.

Google maps and earth can give me a satellite-level view, and there are plenty of tourist websites that give me a sense of some of the scenery. I've chosen a very particular spot for the story to take place, and I pull up the Google map and stare at it quite frequently. But ... there is no Google maps street-view for this area. So, almost by accident, I discovered a pretty cool way to get to know the area where my story is set. It's not possible to do this for every story, but man, I do recommend it.

Here I present a tour through the Irish countryside where my new story will take place (you really only need to watch for a minute, if that, to get a sense of it). Ignore the guy shouting in French. I'm sure he's just saying, "Drive safely, dear friend."




There. What do you think? Pretty cool, eh? Now tell me: how do you research a setting? Do you visit it (I wish I could afford to do that in this case)? Do you use Google maps? Do you search YouTube (I'd never done this before, but I've decided it's awesome)? Do you reach out and get to know someone who lives there? What methods do you use to infuse your manuscript with the detail it requires to build your world, to paint a picture for your reader?

Oh, and because it's Monday, remember to check out Lydia's Medical Monday post and Laura's Mental Health Monday post.

31 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'll spend several months reasearching, looking at pictures, watching tourist videos. I wish I had the money to visit, but that's not in my budget.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a good idea. I've just used Google maps and google images so far. If I could afford to visit a place, then, yeah, that'd be my first choice!

    ReplyDelete
  4. All of the above, plus Flickr! Wikipedia + Flickr are usually the most helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I wonder if that's Colin McCrae driving? And that guy shouting? He's a called a co-driver. It's something they only do in Rally Car racing.

    Anyway, you make an excellent point. There are so many more resources now than there were even a few short years ago. I've talked about this in research posts before, but I think you just illustrated it perfectly.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I've never used YouTube but what a great idea! I usually Google the place or similar places, study pictures, and read articles from their local papers. If I'm lucky to know someone who lives in that area, I ask them as many questions as I can.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Ha, ha - I'm pretty lazy. One of my manuscripts is set in the town of Catawissa, Pennsylvania in the Pocono Mountains (in 1867). I've been to Catawissa to see the significant thing I wanted to see (two caged graves). But after that, I just invented a small mountain town to suit the needs of my story. I've been in the Pocono Mountains enough that I could picture places "like" what I was talking about. Then, in an author's note at the end, I apologized to the real Catawissa for all the geographical inaccuracies and stuff I made up. :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hey Sarah--I've spent a good bit of time in rural Ireland (my grandmother grew up in Cloghane on the Dingle peninsula and we still have cousins there that we visit). If you have any questions I might be able to help you with let me know.
    I can tell you one thing I noticed last time--the fields are chock full of foxglove in July. It grows wild there. Here you have to buy it for $9 a pot at a nursery!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Great video! That's really useful for you I'm sure.

    I was lucky enough to go to Italy when I was researching the setting for my last project. My current WIP is set in a small town very similar to the one I grew up in, so it doesn't require as much research.

    My next book, though, starts out in 1840s Manhattan and then moves to a clipper ship, so I have a lot of setting research coming up. I've found a maritime museum with a ship from that time period that I can go explore. The research on Manhattan will be trickier. I've made a little progress, but haven't had any major breakthroughs. I have a feeling I'll be building that setting piece by piece.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I wish I could help you more. The one thing I don't make up in my books is setting. If I can ground my place, all the fantasy is fine. But I do know a few Irish bloggers, so if you want me to connect you with them, please let me know

    tmilstein at gmail dot com

    ReplyDelete
  11. I appear to write only about made-up fantastical places, or places in which I've lived or currently lived. How boring is that!? I need to get on YouTube forthwith.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I use google maps, search blogs about the place, (just type "blogs" + "____") and visit various sites such as chamber of commerce or local tourism information. Researching can be so much fun when you've never visited the place!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Like you Google Maps are my friend. I never thought about using YouTube, but I'll keep that in mind in the future. My current WIP is set in a town that's only an hour drive from me, so that makes it easy.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Wow, good thing that video has a pause button on it! Cool way to see the countryside though.

    My suspense novel is set in London and in Cairo and its surrounding area. I've lived in London so that was easy, but I spent a HUGE amount of time researching Cairo and environs. Internet mainly, plus questioning friends who've spent time there for details about things like dust in the air, rebar sticking out of tops of many urban homes, etc. I do think you can pull off setting that way. Still, I yearn to go to where my story is set and get the actual feel of it. (You can deduct the expense of the trip from your taxes, I understand, as long as you can show that your writing has not been a losing financial proposition for more than three of the past five years.)

    ReplyDelete
  15. I use anything and everything I can get my hands on - as you can probably tell from my posts. :) The best scenes I've written are places I've actually been. And while a quick trip is good stuff, I think bloggers who live in the place you're researching are the real goldmine. Google is the best way to find them and usually they pop up when you research a specific term.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Neato! Gotta say, I'm pretty generic when describing settings...I keep it open to interpretation so the reader gets to develop their own picture. I also try to point out what the MC is noticing so the reader gets more insight into the character's personality.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I'd only been imagining them so far, but you and your commenters all have great ideas for where to look if I do get stuck. Thanks!

    But, ps. I do agree with IBdiamond. The less the better for me as a reader because I have a pretty vivid imagination that wants to work overtime.

    ReplyDelete
  18. One of my old novels took place in St. Louis and the big woods of Minnesota before it was Minnesota, in 1823. Yes, that specific. There are only drawings, no photos. I read a lot of history books; found old, archived maps of St. Louis online; read first hand diaries of trappers to get the lingo down; researched Ojibwe history, culture, language, and herb lore; researched Minnesota wild life and plant life; researched flint-lock rifles and their evolution into the percussion cap system. It's a shame I let that one go. I put countless hours into it, but it was fun, and I've a much more active interest in my own country's history from that time as a result.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I never thought to use YouTube but I have used online maps and various links. I love working on my WIP on my laptop so I can easily switch over to google something.

    I made up a fictional town but I had to check that the name of it wasn't a real place. My character's backstory is in Spain though, so I've done some research that way. He's been dead for awhile though, so his Spain is one of several hundred years ago. I LOVE researching that stuff, even though I won't use much of it, it helps me as the writer.

    ReplyDelete
  20. 1. I am officially car sick. Have you watched than thing on full screen? My 22 inch work screen has my tummy flipping.

    2. Google street view doesn't have a view of your house, either. ;-)

    3. Me and you should take a special trip to Ireland ... seeing as how both of our current WIP's are set there.

    ~JD

    ReplyDelete
  21. Well... I have the same issue. No wait. I've been to England.

    But I've never been to the part of England I'm setting my story in. Now have I been in enough of an Elizabethan Manor to be able to see where the rooms go. So now I'm struggling to take it a bit further and change it into a school.

    On my searches for a solution to this, I discovered that my school exists. Down to its bell, front steps, chimneys and grand staircase...

    Except... it's still a house.

    BUT it's open to tourists. So now I'm super frustrated because no one's actually bothered to take pictures of how the freaking house goes together.

    But what I've found was small snippets on a variety of sites that I'm using to put the floor plan together in my head.

    :-)

    ReplyDelete
  22. What an awesome way to do it!! I'll have to try that. Normally I pick places I've at least visited before (like Michigan where I grew up LOL). The few times I have used an unfamiliar place I too searched Google street view and Google maps. I've also pretended to house hunt to find the type of suburb I need. :D

    ReplyDelete
  23. I'm got the same thing going on with my WIP. I've seen Scotland from an airplane window, but that's about it. I've watched lots of documentaries and whatnot to ensure that I get particular settings right, and then google earth gets used quit a bit. I'm hoping that I can do some in-person recon, but I won't hold my breath, LOL.

    What part of Ireland are you writing about? I've spent some time in both Northern (Belfast area) and the Repub of Ire. with a bazillion pictures as proof. Especially of landscape. Hills. Gazillions of hills. (No, I don't really know why.) And one of my buddies lives there now. So if you need a particular street scoped out, he loves a good mission :).

    ReplyDelete
  24. Yes the internet makes it very easy to learn about a place you've never been. I prefer writing about places I have been, but in worlds I make up, that's not possible ... which makes it more fun!!
    As for rural Ireland, I've been there and it's pretty much like the video. Think: overcast skies, emerald green rolling hills, sheep, farmland, quaint cottages and rock walls. And that's it. It is gorgeous and green--greener than you can ever imagine. And the rural Irish brogue is so thick it doesn't sound like English. Very difficult to understand, and I'm really good with accents since I talk to peeps from all over the world for a living.
    Good luck!!

    ReplyDelete
  25. A lot of my settings are in the American Southwest so, whenever possible, I like to travel there. Usually just a day or two day drive. But the Internet and Google maps brings everything to you now. Very cool.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Wow, good question. I know a lot of writers who actually make trips out of research, but Ireland would be pretty tough to pull out. I rely on the internet, photos, videos and google maps as well. Good post Sarah!

    FYI, my URL has changed and is now www.lindsayncurrie.webs.com

    Have an awesome day:)

    ReplyDelete
  27. Totally did not mean webs.com sorry. Long day, not enough caffeine. I meant lindsayncurrie.blogspot.com :)

    ReplyDelete
  28. I try to keep my settings local, but I do use the internet for locations I haven't yet been to. Otherwise I build an island from scratch. I can use any detail I like as long as it fits in with the flora and fauna in this region. Pretty cool though to actually go on a virtual ride through the country side.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I don't often need to research a specific setting because I write fantasy, but when I do I love google earth. And photography helps me a LOT to gain a feel for atmospheres as well.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Awesome idea! One of my current WIPs takes place locally, though in a fictional town, so I've got that one covered. My YA WIP takes place somewhere I remember as a kid, and I've been Googling for details to see all the changes.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Pretty much, all of the above. I'm less comfortable, of course, if I haven't already been to my setting, but otherwise, I love Google Maps! I loved using Street View to reconnect with Paris for my current wip. Unfortunately, there is no Street View of the area of Rwanda I wanted to research for a different ms a few months back. I just did the best I could.

    ReplyDelete