I wanted to set a scene in Paris. Now, writing a city that you’ve never really been to can result in a number of outcomes. You can wind up writing the romanticized version of the city, the one based on all the art and photos and books the city has produced. This can be tricky as cities aren’t monuments, they grow and change, and you can wind up writing some weird version of the city that doesn’t actually exist. And this can be fine if you use a light touch, but can backfire if you write a ludicrously outdated scene.
A second result when writing an unfamiliar city can be to go too far in your acceptance of change and develop an extreme sense of how hip you are and put in all sorts of modern touches. Unless this city is your only setting, in which case what you’re doing is kind of adding an update to the cache that already exists, this can backfire even more easily than the first route because you can wind up with a sort of, “Well who cares?” response. Which is to say that if you overload with your research you can reach a point where you might as well set your story anywhere. You know, like if you just say it’s Paris in the opening line but then have your scene play out in front of a Chinese restaurant and a little boutique dress shop. Could be anywhere. Might as well be Cincinatti.
Regardless though, when I decided to pop in on Paris for a bit in the new book I very much needed a refresher course. The internet has been extremely helpful in providing visuals for a number of things, from the view atop Everest (that site still makes my heart race) to what early sushi may have looked like (blech!). The visuals provided on the web always help get the juices going.
In the two years or so since I’ve really dug around for writing help, though, Google maps has gone completely bonkers.
So, when trying to get the feel of a Paris street, I was able to go to Google maps, zoom in and actually walk around the streets of Paris.
Eventually I wound up here:
Are you freaking kidding me?
I’m not sure I can begin to explain how useful this is.
That’s a street.
With a Chinese restaurant.
And a little boutique dress shop.
The only thing keeping it from being Cincinnati is the Pharmacie in the middle.