Monday, April 24, 2006

So Totally Cool

Have you all discovered Google Earth yet?


Not only does this program - which is free to download for the most basic version - offer up bucket loads of coolness in what it can do (I could see my own house! down to the playset in our backyard!!), it is a research tool of epic proportions for writers.

Say you want to set a story in a location where you've never been, which - face it - is 90% of us, you can go to Google Earth, rotate the world around in the palm of your hand until you find your place, zoom down as close as possible and check things out.

Granted, the resolution for much of the world outside the United States is pretty blurry. I mean, you won't be able to navigate the streets of Podunk Village, Argentina. But you can at least check out the general terrain and learn such things as whether or not there are mountains or rivers or lakes nearby, how close such-and-such a place is to the ocean, where centers of population are located, major roads and highways, that sort of stuff. And if you do choose a large city, you can cruise down the streets to a certain degree.

Even better, if you set your story someplace in the United States (and again, leaving out towns with populations roughly the size of a large high school), you can really get the lay of the land. Find out where shopping centers are located, and parks and schools. Scale to the tops of mountains and wander along beaches looking for lighthouses and harbors.

Which is all extremely useful in that it saves you from having your heroine live someplace in New York City and having her take a nightly jog through Central Park only to discover that she'd actually have to take a ferry and a bus and walk 27 blocks to get to anywhere near Central Park. Or giving your hero the career of mountain rescue specialist/champion ski instructor only to discover the nearest bunny hill is some three hundred miles away.

Plus, it is just so cool to actually see a place that you've only read about in research. No, you still don't get the scents and the sounds and the sights of the people and scenery that you'd find if you actually went on location. But for those of us with real-life incomes and real-life commitments, it's often the closest we'll come and a heck of lot more real than two-dimensional pictures in a book.

Think I'll head on over to Hawaii.

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