Methods: Looking into Locations


So my novel is set in Portland, Oregon. Only been very briefly once, and right now anyway, a research trip is simply out of the question.

And it’s (hopefully) not going to be a problem. With the internet all things are in reach. Well once you know, what your reaching for.

Well to start out I made a list of everything I knew about Portland. It wasn’t very long.

Decemberists  from there, Smaller Big city, friendly, rainy, hipsters, quirky, Keep Portland Weird(Unofficial motto), Voodoo Doughnuts, Beervana (nickname known for craft beers), Stumptown, Logging, Old forests, very green, lots of cyclists, lots of nature paths, COFFEE, food scene, river?

Not exactly an expert, but I know what I don’t know. I don’t know a lot about Portland. Maybe I could scrape by with imagination, and a bit of on the spot research, which is essentially how I’ve been writing the first draft, but it’ll never pass muster, especially not for locals.

I have a few people on my various social media lists, and some old friends I could have reached out to. (I will in the Beta stage.) If you’ve got a friend from your target city though, then start there. Or search people from there out, if you’re the easily sociable type. Find another writer, or just a friendly local, and ask for some stories, pictures, favorite places. Might not be the easiest thing to ask for, but it can be invaluable and an incredible starting point

I wanted to do this the long way though, mostly for this article, but also because I’ve been suffering some writers block, and this is a good exercise for the mind. Got to work out thos little gray cells, right? (Anyone else play, ‘How would I describe-‘ in their heads?)

So first off I googled it. Portland CoC website, just whatever popped up first. It helped me get a better idea of the city, and decide for sure, that this was the city I wanted. I could always change my mind later, but this was the last time it would be without any sort of real effort loss. (It’s worth it though, if you need to change the setting then you should. Screw the wasted effort, the stories more important than the effort it takes.)

I found some good pictures, and then I went on Youtube, and searched for travelogues. After a few hours of that I had more questions than I started with, which is nice when questions are what your looking for, and a good idea of the atmosphere of the city. Also a dozen or so restaurants, seen quite a few local people in videos, and just a less-general idea of the type of place it was.


Next I made a new list. This one much longer, and far, far more detailed. I had some locations, names of restaurants, and signs of stores from the videos. I googled them, and then plugged their address into google maps. I used street view to wander the neighborhoods. I took note of street names, landmarks, statues, main road, bus colors, and of course more things to google. I saved pictures where I could. I focused very heavily on not just what I was seeing but who as well. Lots of time spent adding locations to my plot board.

Finally, I’ve looked around at some blogs. The fine-tuning will be the hardest part. Feeling like I’ve really got the feel of a city I’ve never been to, will probably be a challenge. I’m hoping to make at least a short trip before the end of all this, and like I mentioned earlier, finding a native to read it will be a good test.

That’s enough to start writing.  In the end I’m not sure how much of the research will make it into the book, or what will be useful, but at least I’ve got a decent idea of my setting and I hope it will show in the final manuscript.

Well I hope you’ve picked up a tip or two. Did I miss anything? You got any good tips? I’d love to hear them.


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