Plus March Winners Announced!
I’ve never been to New York City in my life. And yet, somehow, I’m absolutely in love with the place. Oh, I’m sure the films have romanticized it for me a bit, but what can I say? Someday I’ll be exploring the Big Apple, chilling in Central Park, and waiting in line on Broadway.
When I began writing my first novel (still a work in progress) my setting was Phoenix. I’ve lived there and I go back every year. Building my world around a real life setting I have actually visited seemed easy enough. I would have less research and I would be able to spend more time writing since I already knew street and highway names, shopping centers, tourist attractions, etc…
The problem is, I hate the desert. My hubby and I moved away for a reason. I could easily write about it, but I was so bored with my setting I ended up hating the story too.
You know that old saying, “Write what you know”? Well, I told one of my critique partners that awhile back (Hi, Neysa!) and she said something that really hit me. Her advice was the exact opposite of what I’ve always heard. Forgive me if this isn’t an exact quote but her advice was basically this:
Write the book you want to read.
She said I should write about what interests me, about a place I want to visit. Of course, that place is, and has forever been, New York City. So I started researching. For anyone who knows anything about me, I hate to research. In high school and college I would write my paper first and then do the research, winging it as I went along (and I still got A’s, thank you very much). I guess I’m what you writers out there would call a panster. I get it all out there first, then I go back and fill in the holes, create an outline, whatever you want to call it.
And yes, I believe all writers, whether pansters or plotters, need an outline at some point. I suppose I’m a little bit of both since I go back and forth.
So back to New York. One of the settings for my first novel is the Upper West Side of Manhattan. My protagonist lives off of 81st and Columbus Avenue, to be exact. Her brownstone is right down the street from Starbucks and super close to Central Park. Basically, she lives where I would live if I were a New Yorker.
I’ve watched You Tube videos and read lots of material on New York. I have maps of Manhattan and Central Park printed out and I’ve scoured Pinterest for inspiration (see my Novel Board if you really want to know more). I can’t tell you a whole lot since I’m currently entered in a couple of writing contests, but I can say that I have no idea how writers lived before Google Street View was invented.
I’m a visual person, but I’m not a rich one. Props to Stephanie Meyer, Lauren Oliver, and all you other greats out there who actually explored your setting in person. Maybe someday I’ll have that chance, but right now all I have is my computer (and the library). Sure, I know I can branch out and make up stuff as an author, but at the same time I want my setting to be as accurate as possible (I’ll leave the fun imaginary stuff to the fantasy world part of my novel).
Enter Google Street View. With this awesome tool I have the ability to walk the streets my character walks. I can check out her neighborhood, follow her to school, and even see what traffic looks like in her area. Google Maps even helps me with little things like finding the best routes from point A to point B.
Street View isn’t available for every town or city, but it’s great if your setting is in some place like Los Angeles, New York, or Seattle. Explore your setting from the comfort of your own home. It makes all the difference.
How do I know?
I recently went to a small writer’s conference. I took part in a critique group on the first day and one of the gals asked me if I had ever lived in New York. I asked her why she thought that and she said it was because there was so much detail about the place in my first chapter. I smiled and said, “I’ve actually never been there” (not in real life anyway). I was also able to answer questions about the area for some of the other authors because I felt familiar enough with my setting to do so. Answering questions about my novel’s setting is actually good practice for when I finally get my fifteen minutes with an agent or editor.
Thanks, Google Street View!
How about you? What online tools do you use to explore setting? I always love hearing from you! Until then, happy writing!
Yours in Messiah Yeshua,
And the winners are…
Mary M., you won copies of My Story: Noah and Daniel!
Suzie W., you won a copy of Really Woolly: 12 Little Blessings!
April T., you won a copy of the Hermie and Friends: I will trust God DVD!
Congratulations to all the winners! And thanks to Tommy Nelson Mommy and the awesome YA authors featured last month for offering these great giveaways! To stay updated on the latest giveaways and reviews, subscribe to my site and newsletter in the sidebar.
*Prizes will be mailed to the address you provided upon entering the giveaway.