Atlas Cosmographicae (Mercator) 080You’ve got an amazing story idea. You can picture it in your head perfectly, but then you start to write. You quickly realize that setting a story in lower Manhattan in New York City or the dry, white salt flats in western Utah might pose a challenge. You’ve never been there.

Does this mean you can’t set a story somewhere you’ve never been? Of course not, it just means you’ve got to research.

First, list all the places you think your story might take place. Include both interior and exterior spaces. For example, you might have a street corner, an office building lobby, a trail head in a national park, or a kitchen. Think of them all. Some of them might be major places that appear over and over, while other spaces might just appear once. Or, you might have an entire story set in one room.

Next, use the following list of ideas to add details to your list of places:

  • Use Google Earth for visuals and maps of the location. This is obviously for exterior spaces.
  •  Use Google to search your setting and look at images.
  •  Create a board on Pinterest dedicated to your setting and pin those images on that board. This will begin to give you a feel for the place. Think about details characters might notice such as outfits of people who are there, colors, and even the weather. How blue is the sky in the images?
  •  Use blogs. People post ALL KINDS of random things online, especially on their blogs. Because many write about their personal experiences, you can get accurate details of a place by searching blog posts. You can find out what a place looks like by looking at Google earth or images, but you still won’t know what it smells like.  To search for blogs, search your topic with “blog” in the search line and then you’ll (hopefully) hit on people writing about all those details a map or picture can’t give you. For example, if I’m writing a story set in Japan, I might google “what does it smell like in Tokyo blog.” The first hit on this query is a blog post titled, “What does Japan smell like?” It’s perfect! And since I’ve been to Tokyo, I agree wholeheartedly with this author’s vivid descriptions.
  •  The CIA World Factbook  is a great source for worldwide information that you KNOW is accurate as it’s on a government website.
  •  Use YouTube. It has videos of places and people in those places. One example is this channel, Travel Bug Robert. He films different restaurants, foods, and activities as he travels and then posts them. As a writer, you can get a sense of all those important details you might miss if you just look at a picture or a map.

If you have any great sites or suggestions that you use for creating a believable setting that is true to the real place, please share them below.