Placing Literature

Have you ever watched a movie and then found out it’s based on a true story, and somehow that retroactively heightens your enjoyment of the film? It’s true for me, and I suspect it’s true in general. As much as we love fiction, there’s something about grounding stories in the real world that make them more tangible and more impactful.

That’s why Placing Literature kicks so much ass. You’ve got to play around with this site (and contribute to it!) to see how much fun it is. To me, it’s as addictive as that first time I discovered satellite views in Google Maps. My wife and I searched for all the homes we’ve lived in and zoomed down to spot gardens we planted, even our cars in the driveway. That sense of place and memory are tied together in powerful ways.

I added some scenes from SHIFT to the Placing Literature site. Donald and Helen’s home in Savannah (which I remember locating for the book using Google Maps, so that anyone who lived in the area would know that Highway 17 really turns on to the street mentioned in the novel). I put a marker at Donald’s office and Thurman’s office in the Dirksen and Rayburn buildings in D.C. And a marker at the fictional RYT hospital in Boston where they got their nano treatments. But the best was placing the silo itself in Fulton County. It helped that I flew out of Atlanta a few weeks ago, and I saw where the trees could be cleared and the skyline spotted. (Sorry state park!)

I also played around with scenes from L. Ron Hubbard’s BATTLEFIELD EARTH, one of my favorite all-time books, and one that truly spans the globe. Seriously, I can’t explain how connected to the story I felt by placing markers on Denver and Karibe and describing scenes from this book. It made it more real. If you try it for yourself, I think you’ll see what I mean.

There’s another great way to use the site, and that’s just to explore stories being told around you. I zoomed in to Charlotte, N.C., and there’s a book by Maggie Bishop, my friend from Boone! John Hart’s books aren’t listed yet, but it would be cool for people in the Davidson area to see that these stories take place in their back yards. The site appears to be very new. Once there are thousands of books added, I think people will enjoy discovering local authors this way, or at least authors writing about nearby locales.

If you add a recent book you’ve read (or written), let me know about it in the comments! The link again: Placing Literature.

13 responses to “Placing Literature”

  1. The locations I chose for my WIP are real locations, all over the globe. It made it easier for me to write a story I almost wish were true. I’ve been there. Of course that happened like I said it happened – see! Right here!

    Nothing wrong with changing locales when you write – but if instead, like the people who scout locations for movies, you FIND your settings, your readers should get a chance to know. It’s all about providing verisimilitude.

    My main character’s house in NH is as real to me as if it had been built. Only problem is, I don’t dare go back there again – the house might not be there. Or maybe it’s just beyond the gate – and I don’t have the access code.

    Thanks for the information and the link.


    1. Thanks, Hugh –

      That was a real trip, going to the map and placing Kary’s house on it (Enfield, NH).

      There weren’t any other people in that neck of NH – I guess I’m the first to leave a digital track. I will place a few more as I finish – there are scenes in India, and the Czech Republic, and in County Galway in Ireland, as well as LA and Princeton.


  2. Ultra cool. Don’t we live in a wonderful time for information sharing?

  3. I forgot to mention that I added the location for my first Silo story! It’s right beside yours, of course, Hugh.

    Here are the coordinates. What a tremendous idea…,-72.9260498285

  4. I haven’t played with the site (yet), but have been struggling with setting in the story I’m planning for NaNoWriMo. I’m not particularly well-traveled, and felt like everything I write should probably be set in areas I know well, which was very limiting. For some goofy reason, I hadn’t thought of using Google Earth (although I love it). Thanks so much for sharing this post!

  5. I’m thrilled about the idea. My silo story (in progress) could be in any silo but 1. But it will be nice to be able to place it with yours in Fulton County. My mystery series takes place in my hometown, so I’ll definitely mark those at some point. Thanks for this, Hugh.

  6. hubbard? are you familiar with his late work? dianetics and xenu&co for example.
    btw i recently found out that they made a movie, starring john travolta, from the b.e. book, with disastrous results.

    1. Forget the religion and forget the film. It’s simply one of the best stories ever told!

  7. That’s a surreal street-view of Donald and Helen’s home in Savannah if I zoom in correct as the road disappears from reality into the (sci-)fictional twilight zone. Nice touch :-)

  8. All five of the crime fiction novels I’ve coauthored and self-published with my wife Cathie (as “Cathie John”) are grounded in actual locations, events, and real people. Many times the truth is more entertaining than fiction.

  9. I’ve certainly used Google Maps a lot both for writing fiction and SEO content. Having characters walk down the Seine in Paris and then along the exact streets is a great way to add detail, and get up to your word quota for the day. I had a good one a few days ago where I put the characters on Tibidabo in Barcelona. With Google Maps I was able to figure out there was a small funucular train that went up and seeing the satellite imagery showed me where they’d walk about. A great tool for fiction writers!

  10. Even though you do not read much, you can still sound intelligent during literary discussions =p
    Here are some tips !!!

  11. […] Placing Literature: Where Your Book Meets the Map | October 23, 2013 | Hugh Howey […]

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