If your novel is set in the Real World — not some mythical construct like Narnia or Middle Earth — then nothing can help you set up a scene in your own mind like actual ground reconnaissance of the terrain you’re writing about. This is what I did for the 1st Chapter of Splatterpunk, the next white-knuckle installment in the action-horror series Special Task Force: GREEN MAJIK. BTW-Chapter 1 of Splatterpunk is part of the package in the Reader Feedback re-release of #1 Pretty Hate Machine. Check it out.
I knew that I wanted Splatterpunk unleashed somewhere in the very exclusive, insanely rich suburbs of Cherry Hills Village. Why? Because this is where the local oligarchy lives and sleeps. It would be interesting to fund a study on the percentage of people in Cherry Hills Village that made their money exclusively in the free market (like Donald Trump) and those who made their money via insider deals with government (like Zuck), i.e., crony capitalists. I’m willing to bet good money that the percentage would tilt heavily to the fascist-economic model in this day and age rather than favoring the real come-from-nowhere free market tycoon. Which means I expect — and depict — this neighborhood to be heavily populated by monopoly people. By people that get government to make laws that outlaws their competition. To the local oligarchs — Merry friggin’ Christmas, you fucking pirates. You can detect the joy with which I wrote the first chapter of Splatterpunk. I really hate these economic hit men and while I can’t go really burn down their neighborhoods to get some payback, I can do whatever I want to these scum in the pages of my novels. Oh, the therapy value of this fact alone is a jewel of incredible worth.
So, my dilemma was I knew Cherry Hills was on the hit parade, but I didn’t have a specific intersection to start the death march from. Did I immediately jump on the Internet like a non-participant in Reality (called a Millennial) would do? No. I got in my car and drove on over to Cherry Hills, armed with camera and notebook. It didn’t take me long to find the right place. The chapter takes place on the block of Ogden Street, starting at the intersection of Tufts and going down the street to the south from there. By the end of Act One of this story, this entire block (a looooong one by the satellite photo which I confirmed on the ground in my car) will be burning to the ground and everyone that didn’t flee will be in a big pile of hacked-and-slashed bodies in the parking lot of the Mormon Church at the top of the block where all the fun begins.
It was the Church that made me think instantly: “THIS IS IT. This is where it all goes down.”
Now, the moral of this how-to is that if you are writing your story and it takes place in Cherry Hills or Outer Mongolia — get your ass PHYSICALLY on the ground so you can smell the air, feel the atmosphere and talk to the people. You can’t get that from Google maps and Internet searches and living in your mom’s basement. Only after you walk the terrain yourself, THEN start downloading Google satellite photos of the region and such.
There is no substitute for a real visit to the real ground. This is part of the Gonzo Novelist methodology.