Fiction Writers Need Google Maps

Because I’m writing historical fiction set in WWI, I need to be able to imagine the landscape of my characters’ world. Many of my favourite WWI websites offer photos of northern France and Belgium as they appeared in the midst of battle (and in black and white) but I also need to appreciate the shape and contours of the land surrounding the small towns and villages where battles occurred or where soldiers went for a few days of rest.

Google maps has been ideal. Where else can you see the sweep of land surrounding Thiepval or the ridge Canadian soldiers fought to capture at Vimy or the land around Honfleur and Le Havre where soldiers disembarked for the battlefields? By zooming in or out, I can identify intersections, bends in the river, nearby forests and the layout of farmland.

Even better, a researcher and writer like me can turn on the photos feature within Google maps to look at photos uploaded by individuals who have traveled to those very places. Such photos offer additional inspiration as I decide how to craft each scene, imagine the colours and sounds, and get inside the head of my characters.

Brilliant and absolutely free.

8 thoughts on “Fiction Writers Need Google Maps”

  1. Not just Google Maps, but YouTube is crucial to understanding the geography, climate, flora, fauna, history, dress, cuisine, and speech patterns of foreign locations that are the settings of historical novels. There are videos on YouTube from virtually every corner of the globe, with some locations hardly changed in hundreds of years.

    1. I have been doing similar things while writing a factual book about a huge building project I was involved with over 20 years ago. I kept promising myself I would go back and see what had worked out well and what had not, but I could not afford the time. This year I have been viewing like a bird. Great. I will have to walk the place again at some time to check and confirm details, however, I can substantially complete the book before I do. I watched a TV programme last year about finding ancient remains using satellite technology and no doubt this might also be revealing on battle sites. I am not sure how available the results are on the internet. Best wishes – Alexander

      1. Nice to meet you, Alexander. Isn’t it amazing how this new technology has not only transformed our lives, but has given us forums like Ms. Tod’s blog as a means to meet fellow writers and share our ideas and techniques.

        1. Oh Google Maps are the bomb. I can’t write now without it. I not only know where I’m going but can see it without being there. Pinpoint specific sites for my book. Don’t write without it. Trust me.

    2. Wow – I never even thought of YouTube! Just last night I was struggling to understand the topography of a location in England, and, for once, Google Maps/Google Earth wasn’t really helping. I’ve totally going to try YouTube. Thanks for the tip!

      1. Sometimes even people’s vacation videos are an enormous resource for getting good location shots! You’d be surprised, but people take their cellphone cameras everywhere, even to the summit of Mount Everest!

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