You may have read this over on J.Q.’s blog. I wanted to repost for those who missed it. While I refer to Book 1 in my trilogy, setting is critical to all books (I’m working on the final one now) so it remains highly appropriate:
I want to thank J.Q. over at Focus on Story for helping me to kick off my newest prehistoric fiction, Survival of the Fittest. It is Book 1 in the trilogy, Crossroads. The most challenging part of writing this book–by far–was the setting–it takes place 850,000 years ago! When I wrote my two thrillers–To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days–these happened in present day, giving me three surefire ways to explore the location:
- Google it–plug wherever I needed into the search engine and sort through the hits. I knew enough about the setting (say, Chesapeake Bay) that I could sort reliable from opinion.
- Talk to fellow writers–there are many people willing to share their knowledge. A search for topical forums or blogs usually turned up someone with direct knowledge of the setting I struggled with (like where students at Columbia University liked to congregate).
- Use Google Earth and its Streetview functions–I’ve written about this in the past because it is an amazing way to explore settings, see what’s on the street characters walk down, to explore obstacles characters face in a park they must run through, or to understand how far apart are places they must drive to. Searching on Google Earth and then dumping yourself into Street View gives you the most authentic experience available, almost like being there.
- Use Google Earth’s Time Slider–by sliding the bar, you can reshape geography and geopolitics to be what it was long ago–up to a couple hundred years. If you’re writing about the recent past, this is an amazing feature.
But none of these work for my newest prehistoric fiction because it takes place 850,000 years ago. Back then, mountains were plateaus, and savanna was jungle. Even the shorelines and fjords of continents were not like they are today. Since my characters walked from China to Spain along first the Indian Ocean and then the Mediterranean Sea, I went to great lengths to be accurate about what they faced. Because I couldn’t use any of the options above, I talked to experts in the field, researched best-guesses, and extrapolated from everything I could find. It took a long time which might explain why the book took over a decade to write.
How do you make sure that the locations your characters visit in your books are as accurately represented as possible?
More on setting
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, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Against All Odds, Winter 2020. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning