Creating Realistic Settings

Ever have a yearning to write a book set in a distant land? I do, all the time. I’m currently working on a Jewel Romance series for Kensington’s Lyrical Press and the one thing they all have in common, besides the jewel thing, is that each book is set in an exotic locale. A faraway place that I’ve never been. Yet reviews coming in on book #1, Diamond Legacy, consistently remark on the vivid scenery, sensory detail, and the way story location takes on a life of its own.

The question is – how can I set a book in Botswana, Africa if I’ve never prowled the savannah or drifted the waters of Okavango Delta? The answer may be easier than you’d think. Three words – global satellite imagery. It’s one of the best things to come down the pipe for us writer types. From the comfort of our recliners we can zoom in and spy on virtually any place on the planet. You can measure distance, determine the geographical lay of the land, scope out cities, find street names in Paris, New York, or Istanbul. Get directions, note landmarks, this is nearly the next best thing to traveling there yourself.

earthMy favorite site is Google Earth because it’s user friendly, has 3D capability, street views, and historical data. How cool is that? But it’s not alone in the market. Here’s a sampling of some sites I’ve used.

www.earth.google.com 

www.terraserver.com

www.digitalglobe.com

www.satimagingcorp.com

But the research has just begun. There’s much more needed to give your location an intimacy that feels genuine. One important factor is weather. For example, our winter is Australia’s summer. That’s an important piece of Intel for me, because I have a jewel series book set in Cape Tribulation, in the heart of Aussie’s northern territory. But what about my current release, Diamond Legacy? What if I’ve painted a beautiful sunny day in Botswana, Africa, but my timeline has the characters there during monsoon season?

I’m in luck, because there are sites that offer atmospheric data, weather patterns, average temperatures, ocean currents, even shipping lanes.

www.noaa.gov    National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (limited to USA’s side of the planet)

www.weather.com   (both sides of the planet)

Which leads us to Greenwich Meantime (GMT). Wonder what time it is in Botswana, Africa? Well, it’s eight hours ahead of USA’s Central Time Zone. Check out these sites for your desired location.

wwp.greenwich2000.com

www.timeanddate.com/worldclock

Okay, now we’re rolling. Let’s get deeper into what makes a country tick, the dray and factual of profiles and statistics. What does their flag look like? What is their current political climate? Are there hot zones? Need to research population demographics? Languages and religions? How about the country’s natural resources, currency, maritime claims, economies, or historical data? It’s all here at this one highly informative site hosted by USA’s own Central Intelligence Agency.

www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html

Once you’ve done all that homework it’s time for the fun part. Tourism sites are a wealth of information and always highlight the best things a country has to offer. They can give a great perspective on local flavor and color, flora and fauna, culture and diversity. The list here can be endless, so I chose two that I used and liked for my stories as an example of what they can offer.

www.botswana-tourism.gov.bw/index_f.html

www.stlucia.org

Another nice benefit of tourism sites is that, at your request they mail brochures, catalogs, photos, and other paraphernalia. But I should warn you this practice can be dangerous. Because if you’re like me, having all that temptation in your hand only feeds the travel bug that constantly lurks, waiting for the slightest inspiration to strike.

Lastly, I’ll mention one more online resource for detailed information. Lots of people write trip critiques or publish small journals of their travels that are chock full of tips, hints, things to look for or avoid. And sometimes, they can spark ideas.

www.TripAdvisor.com

www.MyTripJournal.com

Also, and this is advisable whether you are writing a story or going on vacation, head for your favorite search engine and type in the location next to words like critique or journal. Experiment with words like beware, fantasy, adventure, or some other descriptive. You’ll be surprised at the stuff that pops up. And it’s fun.

But then, I’m a travel junkie, a lover of maps and research. Which means I’m always on the hunt for new ideas, new locales to explore. What about you? If you could go anywhere on the planet, where would it be?

amalfi-coast-1

For me, it would be Italy’s spectacular Amalfi Coast, where I’d sip champagne on board a luxury yacht while soaking up the Mediterranean sun.
 

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