I talked about one aspect of online culture the other day (hi Dad!) but, sat here in the office, I’m taken to ponder another aspect of the internet that has become indispensable to me and my stories.
My tales take my protagonists all over the world, with location being an absolutely vital part of the mix in all of my books. However, for a variety of reasons, not least some unwanted new ones this year, it just isn’t practical for me to visit these places with notebook and camera in hand, and do the research on the soles of my feet. But the ability to click and zoom and find myself able to see almost every single part of the world through my computer is the next best thing. For all the dangers and challenges our online life throws up, it can be easy to forget all the amazing benefits it has given us that would seem like science fiction in my lifetime.
I work really hard to ensure that my stories are as convincing as they can be. Over the years, I’ve built up a “brains trust” of trusted readers, with all kinds of experience and expertise, who help ensure that what happens in my books remains as plausible and correct as possible. I know that even the smallest inaccuracy can be enough to snap a reader out of the flow of the story. It’s the nuts and bolts of writing, and by ensuring that all of that is in order, I find that by doing my best to deliver realism then my characters also behave in a realistic way.
So, thanks to things like Google Earth, I’m able to imagine myself, and my characters, walking around in a particular place. Sometimes, I even find myself just wandering around, picking locations like I was throwing darts at a map, just to see what a certain place actually looks like, and then waiting to see if any synapses start firing and an idea begins to form. Something like location can be the vital springboard I need to grow the germ of an idea into a story. Clicking my way around a place, and then I can start to ask myself questions like “what would it take for John Milton to be here?” and then we’re off, and I’m writing. What an incredible boon it is to be able to do that.
Of course, nothing ever truly replaces the feeling of actually walking those streets yourself, and I’ve been really fortunate to both visit some of the locations that my characters have visited but have also found myself in some parts of the world able to imagine new stories unfolding as I wander. Hopefully, if I’ve done my job right, the reader won’t be able to tell which is which.