characters / setting / tech tips for writers / writers resources

Tech Tip for Writers #65: How to use Google Street View

Tech Tips for Writers is an (almost) weekly post on overcoming Tech Dread. I’ll cover issues that friends, both real-time and virtual, have shared. Feel free to post a comment about a question you have. I’ll cover it in a future Tip.

Q: I can’t find enough detail about a particular area of the world my character visits. Any suggestions?

A: Try Google Street View. It’s a wonderful way to explore settings for your writing Here’s how to use it:

  • First, you must have Google Earth. It’s a free download and I’ve never had problems with the install. Take a minute to do that. I’ll wait.
  • Done? That was fast. Here’s what you do next:



When I went to visit the house my character lives in, I found out I had to rework several important pieces of the story. I had her walking to work, not realizing how crowded both streets and sidewalks were with traffic. She’d have to be a bit more careful with the coffee, briefcase, and cup of oatmeal she was juggling as she traveled. And, where I had her passing generic-sorts of stores (Starbucks, local grocery), umm, the ones I mentioned weren’t there, and I’d failed to mention a few eclectic ethnic stores that could provide the essential detail that makes a setting come to life. Here’s a picture of the street in front of my main character’s apartment:

google earth

And here’s the neighborhood of my other main character:

street view

I edited.

Additional items about Google Earth that might serve your story:

  • The Time slider (on the top toolbar) will take you back about twenty-five years, to see what the geography looked like back then. This is great if your story is from that era
  • It covers hiking trails, not just streets.
  • It will take you inside a wide collection of buildings, such as the White House, allowing you to see whast your character faces when they enter.

For more information, click here. And, check out Jerry Davis’ thoughts on Google Earth for Writers at Mojo Writer.

Question? Add it below in comments. I’ll answer!

More Tech Tips for writers:

Tech Tip for Writers #64: Reset Default Font

Don’t Like Double Space Between Paragraphs?

6 Tips That Solve Half Your Tech Writing Problems

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor of technology in education, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

59 thoughts on “Tech Tip for Writers #65: How to use Google Street View

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  8. Jacqui…. this is such a neat tip… a great source of inspiration for writers when it comes to descriptions…. Thanks for sharing!. Best wishes. Aquileana⭐


  9. Jacqui this is such a cool idea, I have trouble describing buildings and by doing this I can gets a birds eye view. You are awesome! Thanks I’m slowly catching up on all the stuff waiting to be read in my inbox. This one was an eye opener for me thanks.


    • Sometimes, I stare at them for minutes, thinking what part they play in a story. I can stand by them at all sorts of angles–the front, a neighboring house, even down the street, see if I notice differences. It’s a wonderful tool.


  10. Unfortunately, my biggest problem is getting my descriptions down on paper without it sounding like a bullet list. But your tip is still useful to me. It make help tighten up my description a bit.


    • I struggle with that, too. An agent who liked my writing DIDN’T like that aspect of it–that I seemed to write a narrative of descriptions rather than tie it into the story. I’m still trying to fix that.


  11. I’ve been using Bing’s map. The Google one does look more detail but I’m wondering about something. In Bing Map, I have my own set of places that pop up in a window and I can tag places that are in that set right on the map. This way I can map out how my characters get from one place to another. Does the Google Earth have this?


    • Bing is a good option also. I started with Google Earth and never changed, but I watched a presentation in Bing’s tool and was impressed.

      Yes, GE can collect and save your locations for easy access. I have about 25 collected that I can revisit any time I need to.


  12. I love using street view. It’s interesting how streets vary across the nation and have their own local style and whatnot. I also like to virtually revisit places I’ve been to in order to see how they’ve changed.


  13. It’s kind of creepy too. I looked for my house and found it. It happened to be a day when some family was visiting and their car was in the driveway. It seemed spooky to imagine a google car driving down country lanes capturing us all. BUT I love the idea for book writing! I can now visit some historic places! I hadn’t even thought of it. Thanks Jacqui!


  14. I probably wouldn’t use it to be “authentic” in my writing since none of my writing is based on authenticity! but tracking “daughters” and traveling the world . . . is toooooooooo coooooooooool!

    Thanks for the information on free arm-chair-travel – I’ve never used this Ap


  15. I have forgotten about Google Street View. A while ago, I had a yen to visit the second town we lived in and my old house and street. Google just went to the corner and I could see the house. Walking around my old high school also felt as if I were there. Thank you for the reminder and the tips. 🙂


    • They do a great job, and all over the world. Of course, nations like North Korea don’t allow them in. I was trying to study a North Korean port for my second story–I had to rely on pictures posted to Google Earth. Which worked nicely.


      • I had a visitor from Estonia plan to visit me after I moved the last time. She stayed with me twice for ESL before. Anyway, she found out exactly where i lived an sent me a picture of our house. This tool can be scary in a way as well. ❤


  16. It’s strange, but I never even thought of using Google Earth! What an excellent idea. I’m going to do that the next time I use an area I’m not particularly familiar with🙂


  17. Thank you, Jacqui. I’ve enjoyed playing with Google Earth and Street View, but didn’t know about these extra parts. Will try them out! I’ve had fun using this app (would you call it an app?) to see the houses and neighborhoods where I lived as a kid. I’ve used Rick Steves’ travel shows on PBS for ideas about how the fictional Polish village I created for a story might actually look. I can sense how Europe appears since he walks all over the places he visits. Then I build something credible. Books and photos work too. Roman Vishniac’s photo books of Poland just before WWII were extremely helpful. He got inside hundreds of houses and took photos of people in their daily lives. Other photo books provided images of the landscape and famous landmarks. I had to be creative about inventing my locales as I positioned them on actual rivers and forests and near real cities. Can’t wait to see what you suggest next!


      • The Vishniac photos are a true treasure. He was aware of what he was capturing and worked very hard, his daughter as his assistant, to capture as much of Polish shtetl life as he could. They ingratiated themselves into the lives of such impoverished and pious people in the far flung parts of Poland, getting portraits no one else had been able to get. I gleaned so much info by studying his photos. Vishniac knew that only his photos would survive.


  18. I didn’t have Google Earth, but I used very similar (but more circuitous) internet research for my first book. I did a section–a turning point–in Paris. I’d never been to Paris. So, between a packet of maps and internet pictures, I created the Paris my character needed. I had to be pretty accurate, because Paris is one of the most visited cities. Two years later, I finally made it to Paris! I walked the steps from the book–looked at the hotels and coffee shops that figured into the story and–the results were pretty good! I blew it on the Ecole Des Beaux Arts campus (forgive me, to me campus means trees and grass!) but otherwise the internet was magic. With this new tip, it will serve me even better for books three and four.


  19. Thanks Jacqui. A simple tip, but one that can be really useful. I have been a great fan of Google Streetview, but have never thought of using it for making a location in a story more authentic. Now, there is “no place too far”.


    • It definitely does (make a story authentic). Check the date at the bottom of the image to see when a satellite photo was taken. Usually, it’s within a few years, but some areas don’t get a lot of activity.


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