I’m sure you’ll all agree technology has made the writer’s life easier. No more trips to the library, just Google it. No more visits to the courthouse, instead check records online. Now that we have Google Earth is there a need to travel to the corner of Cherry & Main when you can simply power up the computer and visit electronically? But this begs the question, have we become too dependent on technology?
It’s tempting to lean on our computer crutch. A writer has so few minutes free in the day. If we’re not writing our next novel, we’re endlessly blogging, tweeting, and facebooking. So I can understand our dependence on virtual travel. But I say, “Step away from the desk!”
If you simply rely on a picture on a computer screen, you’ll miss out on the nuances of a location, the flavor of a city. Researching for my debut novel, Dead Like Me, I set up a private three-hour tour of the Tampa Police headquarters. It was the best thing I could have ever done for my novel. I like to keep my stories as factual as possible so I wanted to record everything. Like the fact that the homicide department is on the eighth floor and how the precinct has a nondescript smell. Unless of course, you’re on the fourth floor when seized marijuana plants are drying out.
As a crime fiction writer, police anecdotes and rookie mistake stories are golden. When I toured the homicide department, I discovered the guys had played a practical joke on one of the detectives. They turned his desk into a boat, attaching a steering wheel to the end of the desk and PVC piping to the top creating a bimini. A steel cleat was even mounted right in the middle of his desk. Of course this was too good to pass up, so I included it in my novel. These are all things I never would have found out through interviews or sitting behind my computer.
How about you? Do you rely heavily on your computer for research, or do you get out from behind your desk and travel, soaking up the local flavor of a location? Or maybe you use a combination of the two approaches?