Friday, April 05, 2013

How Google Earth Can Help Writers

Write what you know? How about write what you can learn using Google Maps?

From a piece in the New York Times...

If you want to write about North Korea, it’s not hard to find pictures of the monuments and colossal boulevards of Pyongyang, the capital city, because these are the images sanctioned and disseminated by the government, and all that any visitor allowed into North Korea is allowed to see of it. But if you are interested in the rest of the country — at least if you are a writer who wants to put characters on the ground there — the obvious problem becomes: How to render what these characters see? How to describe the topography of the landscape? In essence, how to breach the misanthropy of a country just for getting its street names right? 

Enter Google Earth. Enter Google Maps. 

I happened on Google Earth a few years ago while reading up on Scientology and, O.K., about John Travolta and his demesne, which can apparently accommodate two private planes. But don’t believe me, see for yourself: here are the coordinates on Google Earth. . . . Wait — what? I downloaded the program and was, in an instant, floored by this technology. Forget Travolta’s place. I could visit the Grand Canyon, which, unbelievably, I once drove right by without stopping. I could check out aerial photos of cattle worldwide and see if they really do orient themselves along a north-south axis while they graze. I could return to my childhood home in Cleveland. And perhaps most astonishingly, I could take a look at North Korea — at a map of the country overlaid with satellite imagery and captions. What an incredible resource for a writer. If you can’t get to a place yourself, spy on it.

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