Researching on the Internet

The Internet is the fiction writer’s best friend.  Well, not counting those precious members of your writers’ group who will tell you the truth.  And your writing partner who reads every word and loves you anyway.  Or your editor who encourages you to “just get me another book.”

OK, the Internet is the fiction writer’s 6th or 7th best friend.  You can find out just about anything you need to know in not very much time.  Amy and Walter are traveling on the Interstate through Knoxville.  What do they see?  Hmm.  I’ll bet I can find that fact in . . . 7 clicks.  Look.  It’s the Sunsphere.

Part of the story in Return from Avalon (and Points West) takes place in the “book town” of Hay-on-Wye, Wales.  When I was writing the 1st draft, I did as exhaustive an Internet tour of the town as possible.  Pulled up articles, photos, everything I could come up with to give me the look and feel of the town as well as the facts.  Thought I did pretty damned well.

And then, when I was working on the 1st rewrite, I was in Wales on business (how cool a job is that?) and actually had an opportunity to travel to Hay-on-Wye.  Even better, write it off as a legitimate business expense.  It was in December, and we finished up on Thursday around noon.  The plant was near Swansea, and my flight left Cardiff early Saturday morning.  So I pointed my car north and headed out on an adventure.

Having lived in Texas for as long as I have, it never occurred to me that it gets dark around 3:30pm in  Wales in December.  So driving little roads on the wrong side in the dark with a map but no GPS — well, let’s just say that by the time I got there, it was late and I was fried.  But I found a room in an inn over a pub (and even rarer, a parking spot), dumped my stuff off, and went out exploring.

Despite my exhaustive Internet research, Hay-on-Wye was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING like I had pictured it.  Because I was seeing the pictures and reading the descriptions through my American filters.  Except for the pubs, the little town was closed up tight as a drum.  Restaurants (I had blithely assumed there were several to choose from)?  Nope — everybody eats at a pub.  Not to mention, the place is TINY.  And about twice as much charm as I had imagined.

And the next morning . . . the book stores, which is what the town is famous for, were amazing.  That much I had gotten right, at least.

So, fellow writers.  Stay on the good side of your 6th or 7th best friend, the Internet.  But if you get a chance, put your feet on the real estate.




16 thoughts on “Researching on the Internet

  1. “Put your feet on the real estate.” I love it. What scares me about the internet is the disconnect from reality. This handy dandy virtual world called the internet doesn’t always provide the truth. Not to mention, you can’t “touch” anything. Ok, I’ll get off my soap box. Like you, the internet is my friend, just not my BFF! Great post!

    • “The biggest problem with The Internet is that it is impossible to know if information found online is true and correct.” – Abraham Lincoln


      When I first got on the Net (back in 1995 or so) it was a fascinating magical place. Then came the big AOL Push to get the world connected, and the Kiddies came in. That is when things got weird. Then came Big Business (10 million dollars for the domain “”? If I remember right, “” went for even more), commercialization of the Net, and the ongoing fight to regulate something that cannot be regulated.

      It is one of the greatest things ever; a writer can travel the world and never leave their desk. BUT…. nothing will ever beat ‘feet on the street’ and actually seeing what you are writing about!

      Okay…. stepping off soapbox now…:)

      • OMG!! Will! I burst out laughing when I read Lincoln’s quote. There isn’t font large enough to denote the LOL you elicited from me. Holy Crap! That’s the humor that I’ve so come to appreciate from you!
        I agree about the internet. It’s a love-hate thing for me. How can so much good and evil come from one place, right?
        The internet for me on occasion reflects what I like to think of as a collective thought of a group of people. And the varieties you can find range from pure to insidious.
        I think I would NOT want to see the side you see (in your work). I don’t like that much darkness. 🙂


  2. LOL! Makes me think of that commercial. The girl has a date with a dude that says he’s French. Where’d they meet? The internet. And he’s 1. Not a model. 2. Clearly not French. And yet she still believes if it’s on the net it’s true.


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