Sometimes my imagination just isn’t enough. I need a picture. It’s worth a thousand words, right?
I’ve been working on a short story that’s set on a farm. While the story itself is complete fiction, the setting is very real. I lived there for a handful of years as a kid. Memories of the decrepit barn and the resident farm dog, Snoopy, and the walnut trees that lined the long lane will always hold a somewhat mythical place in my imagination. I can write about these things and describe that setting until the cows come home (or, in the case of where I lived, until the cock crowed). I went to the nearby grade school, walking half a mile down a tree-lined country road to the bus stop where the bus driver/farmer (who smelled intensely of his pig farm) would whisk us schoolchildren to our place of learning. Just around the corner from that bus stop stood a red one room schoolhouse. The small town had outgrown the schoolhouse in the 1940s.
Suffice it to say, as much as the decrepit barn, Snoopy and the walnut trees hold a place in my imagination, so too does that schoolhouse. I’ve been wanting to write about it for years. And this year became the year.
The story begins with the main character observing the schoolhouse exterior. No problem. I could describe that. But once I began to walk that character through the door…uh oh! As a kid, I never actually went into the schoolhouse. Never even stepped off the road to look through the window. I don’t know why. The place fascinated me enough that I should have explored further. But I didn’t. When writing my character inside the schoolhouse I needed help. I turned to Google Images.
Typing “one room schoolhouse” into the Google Images search box, a universe of images appeared. (I wasn’t looking for the actual schoolhouse, any interior schoolhouse would do.) Viola! Suddenly I had a fictional setting complete with a potbelly stove and an aging globe. And I didn’t even have to roadtrip it halfway across the world.
Taking a trip to the actual setting of your fiction for research might be ideal. France? Fiji? Finland? Why not? But let’s face it, how often is that possible? So, if you’re looking for a bit more visual inspiration for your fiction from the web, here are a view ideas:
- Google Images (of course).
- Let’s not forget Flickr, an image hosting and video hosting website. Anyone can upload their photos and, if tagged well, you’ll be able to seek and find what you’re after.
- With Google Maps Street View, you’re only a click away from seeing streets, houses, cars, street lamps, architecture and the occasional bare bummed guy peeing into the wind or any other such usefulness captured by Google. Lend some added authenticity to that Kansas neighborhood you’ve just never gotten around to visiting.
- I’m sure you’ve heard of Google Earth, a virtual globe/map/geographical program. But did you know that Google Earth allows you to add sunlight and shadows to any location you’re searching? So, if your character is running down a quiet alley in Spain at 3pm, you can fix the sunlight to that very location and time. Kudos will be yours for the added authenticity! (Thanks to Elizabeth for telling me about this cool feature!)
Can you suggest any other great web image tools that writer’s could use?