How Google Earth helps me write…

planet earth

A while back I mentioned maps helping my writing process. When I was younger, I loved pouring over maps. I even covered my walls in maps of places I wanted to visit someday. I still have map books to refer to in a pinch, but that is no longer my go to source.

For years I used MapQuest for planning trips. One day, in the earliest iteration of what would become Fantastic America, I needed a map. For whatever reason, instead of MQ, I stumbled onto Google Earth, and I fell in love right away. I use it extensively in planning, research, and during my writing process.

This isn’t a commercial for the program, but I am going to highlight how I use it. For starters, I can pin locations like a real old fashioned wall map. I can pin point some place in the real world or overlay a location I’ve invented for the story. It even lets me add notes to the pin so I don’t have to remember every detail I had in mind (My memory needs all the help it can get).

Speaking of overlays, I can throw highlighted shapes over the terrain. This has been especially valuable when I had an area of effect to visualize or a large structure that doesn’t exist in the real world. When matched with the topographical features of the terrain overlays are even more helpful.

The Streetview function had been even more useful. With it, I can virtually visit just about any place I need to see at ground level. It drops me into cities, parks, archeological sites and more. Even if the detail isn’t great, I get enough information to search other sources or cobble together a decent impression of the location.

A significant amount of my novels take place in the recent past. Google Earth has me covered! I can look back at many locations at least into the 1980’s with supplemental Landsat or aerial photography. In some cases there is even street level data from earlier Google mapping efforts.

The last feature I’ll mention is the wide variety of pictures, panoramas, and location tags the program hosts for context. Tourists, academics, and professional photographers have plastered high traffic locations with great views of their visits. Businesses, museums, and points of interest have location tags that give me a feel for whole neighborhoods.

Best of all, from my perspective, all of this detail is free. For an author on a budget, or someone who finds travel difficult (me on both accounts), a virtual trip makes the most sense. I don’t know if this will help anyone, but the few times I’ve brought it up around other authors, they found the program extremely useful. I hope you do, too!

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