One of the great things about being a writer is the research. I'm sure many would disagree, but I really enjoy it. I love finding out more about where my character's live and which cafe they frequent on weekends. It can help sometimes to have visual geography in which to base my fictional city or neighborhood. Right now I am working on something based in Boston. Boston Medical Center features prominently in the story line, so I have been doing research on the surrounding neighborhoods. I found one in particular I really liked- in fact, I am using it as a basis for my main character's own neighborhood.
Unfortunately, I can not physically go to Boston right now, so I have to be creative with my research. I have to send a shout out to all things Google- Google Search, Google Maps etc. Google has helped me find the information I need, but it has also given me too much information. Google is the reason I feel like a stalker.
Thanks to Google I can see 360 degrees around the entire neighborhood (streetview). Using Google search I also found the square-footage and price of residences in that area, along with realtor's websites with photos of the insides of some of those residences. The more I researched, the more I wanted to know and before I knew it, I had a manila folder full of information--almost as though I was launching an investigation on the residents.
The only thing Google doesn't seem to have are the sounds and smells of the neighborhood or an approximation of how often the guy in number 23 runs to the deli on the corner to get his pregnant wife something to eat, or how many kids play in the fountain on any given summer afternoon, or whether you can hear the sounds of the one-man-band playing at the street fair around the corner.
In some sense, internet research almost defeats the purpose of writing a work of fiction.
In reality, the only thing I need is a map of the area in case I need to figure out distances to landmarks, or use the real names of main streets.
All that said, I should probably change the pronoun in my title to 'I', but it makes me feel I'm not alone in my creepiness. I can't be the only writer who has felt mildly voyeuristic while doing research. Right? Anyone?