How to research locations in your novel

research-locations-in-your-novel

.

These past couple of weeks, while I continue the waiting process, I’ve thrown myself back into editing another manuscript. This is the manuscript I began in NaNoWriMo 2012, and I finally finished the first draft in August 2013. I’ve tinkered with it a few times since then, and now I’m up knee-deep in draft number six.

The novel begins in country Victoria and then heads to New York City, where the majority of the story takes place. New York City is one of my favourite places  in the world. The vibrancy, the colour, the culture, the diversity, the architecture, the energy… I could go on. Anyway, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about this novel is researching the city. Although I’ve been to NYC a couple of times, (and can’t wait to go back), I’m still having so much fun researching on the net.

So, how do you research locations in your novel? Of course, going there is the best way, but it’s not the only way. Here’s some ways I’ve found helpful when researching locations in your novel.

 

Going There

It goes without saying that going to the location/s your novel is set in, is the best way to research. Not only do you get a geographical feel for the place, you get to experience it through every sense. You not only see the culture, the pace, and the nuances of the place, but also experience the sounds and the smells. By being there you can feel the place. But you also need to take off your tourist hat and see the place as a local. You need to interact with the natives, go to areas off the tourist track, spend time in the different neighbourhoods – particularly those you will use in your setting – and soak in as much as you can. Take photographs, write notes, note down the way people speak, the smells, the light at different times of the day, the feelings you have as you wander around. These are all things that will enrich your writing and allow the reader to feel as if they are totally immersed in the setting as they read.

.

Books

They may be considered ‘old-school’, but I think books are such an important resource. While you can use the internet to scour information about your setting, you also often end up down the rabbit-hole of the internet and far from where you began. With a book, you have focused information right in front of you. From travel guides such as ‘Lonely Planet’, through to books on architecture and history, you can glean so much information that will be useful in getting your setting just right.

.

Internet, Blogs & Vlogs

As mentioned above, the internet can lead you on a never-ending tidal wave of information. I find the best way to use the net is to be very specific about what you want to research. Don’t just google “New York City”, Google, “Most affordable areas to live in New York City”. That way you will get the information you need without wasting precious time. The internet is perfect for researching particular places, business, shops, museums, landmarks etc

I also find blogs and vlogs useful. They often give you a very personalised account of lives in the place you are researching. One of the best vlogs I found was by Googling ‘My year living in New York City.’ I wasn’t expecting to find much, but I gave it a shot and the information I discovered was truly priceless and has helped me develop my location to be as authentic as possible.

.

Google Maps

Not everyone can afford to take time off work, or travel to the location they want to set their book in. So, what’s the next best thing? Google Maps! I love virtually walking the streets of New York City on Google Maps. If you didn’t know, there is a function you can drag the little yellow man from  the street view, place him on the street on the map and wah-luh! You are instantly transported to  the street! When I first discovered this I was totally in awe. I’ve walked the neighbourhoods where my characters live, past the bars they hang out in, their work places, and all through central park! It really is the next best thing to being there.

.

Air BnB/Accommodation sites

The great thing about the rise of sites such as Air BnB, is that you get to peer into the homes of everyday people. It’s a great way to see how people live in a particular location. While a few are set up as permanent holiday homes, many are simply people offering their houses or apartments to earn some money.

.

When you need to research locations in your novel, keep in mind that although it’s great fun, you need to be mindful of how far down the rabbit hole you wander. You can lose countless hours researching, when the time may be better spent writing. So keep some balance, get what you need and then get back to writing. And if you can, go there! I don’t know about you, but my dream job would be an author who gets to travel each year to research locations for the next book!

Happy researching (and writing)!

 

 

.

.

.