How do you research the setting for a book?
Ideally, we write about someplace we know, someplace we've lived or visited, right?
But how do you research when you can't go there (but really need to use the setting)?
Historical writers are used to researching settings we can't visit, but contemporary authors have to research also.
In the olden days, we researched in the library (or if you're like me, you bought every book you could find on the topic!)
Then there was the internet. Even in the early days of online research, you could find tons of photos, connect with residents, Google map your location.
And of course there are YouTube videos.
If you want something more specific, Google Earth lets you zoom in on any spot you want anywhere around the world. Have you tried that lately? It's all kinds of awesome. You can zero in on any spot in the world and feel like you're right there. (Though honestly the zooming makes me a tad dizzy!)
I'm researching Idaho for a current book. Google Earth made me feel like I was walking through the forest.
I could even feel what it was like to set up camp.
Recently, I discovered what may be the "next best thing to being there" - Virtual Reality.
But let's take a step back in time first.
Do any of you remember these?
I had a Viewmaster when I was a kid. Who knew I was on the cutting edge of technology?
No kidding. Apparently, the same technology in these 3D static images, applied to videos, is the concept behind today's Virtual Reality headsets.
I'm by no means a pro at this, but I was curious. Several years ago my husband got a Google Cardboard for free from somewhere. At the time, neither of us had an iPhone, so the device sat on the bookshelf gathering dust (literally!).
Then earlier this year, my principal got a donation of a box of Google Cardboards. I decided to use them with my class to help them understand what it was like to climb Mt. Everest (to go along with a book we were reading).
It's pretty easy to set up. You download a free app, then insert your phone into the cardboard viewer and immerse yourself.
Unfortunately, I discovered that all the really good Everest simulations were for far more expensive VR systems, but along the way I learned something new.
YouTube is VR central. Many of the videos available on YouTube have a little cardboard viewer image in the lower right corner.
This indicates that the video is compatible with Google Cardboard and can give you an immersive experience.
So, back to Idaho - I can watch this video on YouTube and have a pretty wild ride down the river, but if I open that same video on my phone and put it in my Cardboard, I am right in the boat with them, feeling every swell, taking every curve. It was almost enough to make me seasick!
Now, let's say I wanted to set a book in Scotland. I could go to YouTube and watch this lovely video.
Or, I could go to the same link on my iPhone and insert the phone in my Google Cardboard, and I would have 360° access to the same video. I can look down at the ground, up at the sky, see who is behind me and twirl in a circle if I want to.
On my phone, the screen looks like this. Look familiar? (See the Viewmaster above.)
But when I open it in Google Cardboard, I am right in the scene, walking under that bridge.
One caveat - at least with the 1st generation, cheap viewer that I have, the quality isn't always crystal clear, but I suspect that will improve with time. In the meantime, I'm just happy to be able to experience areas that I want to write about even if I can't afford to travel.
Not bad for under $10!
Of course someday, maybe I'll spring for one of the fancy sets like Oculus Rift with all the supportive, advanced videos, but for now, I'm happy to stroll along Loch Lomond and hum a tune (where no one else has to listen).
Have you tried VR for research or just for fun?
What's your favorite way to research?
I'm giving away one Google Cardboard, so let me know in the comments if you're interested!