There are limitless possibilities when it comes to deciding settings in a story. You could have a character from the exact same hometown as you, they would be living and working in a city in a part of the country you’re generally unfamiliar with, or in a part of the plot where it has the potential to re-define everything that they know, they may even need to travel abroad. But what do you do if your desired setting is a place that you’ve never been to before? How do you go about with researching that location in advance? That’s where I contemplate on the way of location scouting and research trips.
While characters in stories have limitless possibilities in where they come from or where they are headed, in real life, we have our various financial restraints. Unless you have an above average amount of wealth to your name, not everyone can afford a research trip to someplace in Europe on a whim. Not everyone is financially able to stay in a house on the North Island of New Zealand for a few months’ worth of research. If may even cost an arm and a leg to do a research trip even in a different state (depending on which one it is, of course). The point being is that there are always the dollar signs to consider.
Now some might argue that research trips are practically unnecessary nowadays with the world at our fingertips via the Internet, where Google Maps of various locations, articles and images about the people and customs of said location, and YouTube videos providing even more insight are just a search term away. That may be the case, but it still doesn’t entirely compensate for actually being at that location, breathing that specific air, wanderlusting on those particular grounds, eating the particular food of that area, and more. The Internet can only provide so much of an idea of a place.
Now I know that sometimes, depending on how established an author is, they might actually be given an advance by a publishing company to use on said trip. But a majority of the time, that’s not the case for authors, and that can be really discouraging for them. That’s why, similar to how Amtrak provides a writing fellowship, I wish airlines and travel agencies can collaborate to create scholarships and fellowships for writers who need to go on a research trip but are financially restraint from doing so.
Until something like that fleshes out into fruition, there are alternatives in the mean time that can also assist with understanding a location. For instance, if you know anyone who traveled to a place you’re setting a story in, perhaps talk to them about their experiences there and, if possible, ask them for pictures they took there. I consulted a friend about what the Grand Canyon is like for a chapter in A Moment’s Worth and last year, when another friend of mine went to Maui for a week, I asked him to take pictures of the environment there for me, as an aid to my second novel.
Sometimes if there is a TV show or movie(s) set in a particular location, it might help to watch them – especially if they were actually filmed on location and not in the go-to city of Toronto, Canada or at a studio in Hollywood. Depending on how accurately the location is portrayed in the show or film, then it’s most certainly a good way to go. That’s actually what originally led to me first start watching the TV show “Hawaii 5-0” last year, because I needed a good idea on what Hawaii looks like and how it is, again for my second novel.
When in doubt, there is the Internet, which despite its holes, it actually is pretty useful in providing good research material, if you know where to look that is. By all means, go use Google Maps if you need to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B. Go look up images of the location of your choosing and, when possible, let your imagination take over from there. Do use YouTube to learn about a place, for despite all the cat videos many look up otherwise, there’s always that one informative video that really let’s you get to know a place.
But if you have the affordability to actually go to the location, whether if it’s local, out of state, or abroad, then by all means do it, for going back to earlier, amidst any alternative research, the best way to know a place is to go and experience it for yourselves. As a result, your story may become just that much more real.
A Moment’s Worth is now available through the following venues: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, iTunes. Please leave a review if you can, for my goal is to get a total of at least 20 reviews on all venues (so far, I’ve gotten 12 reviews so I’m already just past the halfway point to my goal). Check out its Goodreads page, which includes two trivia quizzes for all who’ve completed reading it already.