How to Use Google Maps to Help Your Setting: Writing Tips

How Google Maps can Help Your SettingWriting a book can be pretty tricky on the best of days, but if you’re writing a book that takes you to a setting you’ve either never been or haven’t been for a while, it can become infinitely harder. As nice as it would be to visit all your settings, that often costs time and money, which you might not be able to sacrifice. That’s where Google Maps comes in! Google Maps can be ridiculously helpful in refining your setting so you don’t feel like you’re going into a location completely blind. Does it replace actually visiting? No. But when that’s just not an option, Google Maps is a solid alternative.

Here are six ways Google Maps can help you and your setting:

1) Visit a place you’ve never been

The world is a big place and your characters may have a need to travel it more vastly than you have. If your characters need to go to a place that you haven’t visited, hop online and take a look around. Most locations have photos and a 3D street view that puts you as much in the location as possible. In fact, Google Maps helped me write my spy books like this. As a spy, my character had to visit locations all around the world–most of which I’d never been. It let me get a feel for the color of the buildings, the building to grass ratio, and other geographic details.

2) Refresh your memory about a place you’ve visited

Sometimes, even if you have visited a location, there might be details about it you forget. Using the same 3D street view tool from the first point, you’ll be able to walk around the location and (if you have an address) revisit specific landmarks. So, if it’s been a long time and you just want to make sure you’re getting the details right, Google Maps can give you a quick refresher.

3) Point to a place your character visits

If you’ve never been to a location, it might be hard to put your character in a specific building or open area and describe it effectively. This is another awesome job for Google Maps! You can use the street view to browse a location and find a building or park or whatever you need for your story. I often won’t use an exact location and call it out in my books, but I will base a location in my books off of what I’ve found on Google Maps.

Keep in mind, if you’re writing fiction, your locations don’t have to be 100% accurate and real, it just has to be believable–even if your book takes place in this modern world. There can be a location that exists in the world of your story, but not in the real world. Google Maps will help you to 1) know the location you have in mind is possible and 2) make sure that location fits into the country/city/town like you want it to.

4) Track your character’s journey

Similarly, you can track your character’s journey to not only visit a location but also to get travel times. If you’ve never been to a country, it can be hard to estimate how long it might take you to get from point A to point B. Google Maps can help give you distances for you to estimate your character’s travel. After all, you wouldn’t want to say your character will make it point B in time for dinner if that’s completely unrealistic.

5) Inspiration for a fictional place you’re creating

If you’re creating a fictional world from scratch, Google Maps can give you some real-world information to pull from. For example, if you know that you’re creating a desert-like world, but have never been to a desert, you can visit a wide variety of real-life desert locations on Google Maps to help create a world that is both unique and believable at the same time.

6) Discover aspects of a location you hadn’t considered

Even if you know the perfect location for your story, there are some questions you might not think to ask unless you take a look around. For example, if you’ve got your character driving a getaway car away from a certain location, you may find that the roads are too narrow for some crazy action-packed stunt you had in mind. If your idea of a ‘road’ is big and wide, it may not have occurred to you that the roads in your story’s location would be way too small to pull off your stunt. Even if you know a lot about your location via research and other sources, there are probably plenty of things to take in just by walking the Google Maps streets.

I hope this helps you use google maps to create an awesome setting!

Now it’s your turn: Have you used Google maps in the past to help your setting? How did it help? Or do you have new ideas about how you can use it in the future? Tell me about it in the comments!

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