YouTube to the rescue
Published: June 26, 2009
|The August 2009 issue of The Writer featured a special section of articles dealing with writers and technology, including how a great deal of valuable research can now be done online. In the following article, Tanya Egan Gibson, author of the novel How To Buy a Love of Reading, published by Dutton in May 2009, describes how she put YouTube to work in crafting her novel. Read more about Tanya at her Web site, www.tanyaegangibson.com.|
|As I sat in my living room in Northern California in 2008 revising my novel, How To Buy a Love of Reading, to include a scene on the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), I made a disturbing discovery: I had only a vague recollection of what the inside of an LIRR car looked like. For four years I'd taken the train every day for work, back when I lived in New York a decade ago. Now, the only image I could conjure of the train's interior was "rectangular." Great, my protagonist would be traveling in a breadbox.|
Hoping photos might trigger memories, I did a Google search for LIRR images. What color were the seats? What were they made of? What was that warning sound before the doors closed?
When hits for YouTube videos first came up in my search, I ignored them—I thought of YouTube only as a place I sometimes ended up at the behest of friends whose e-mails insisted I HAD to follow a link to a stranger's home video of a duck/puppy/toddler doing something overly cute.
But when I finally did click on links to videos like "Riding inside an M-7 Long Island Rail Road Train!," I discovered exactly what I was looking for—the sensory details I'd been missing from my breadbox-on-rails. The trains issued doorbell sounds before the doors closed. The cameras, which shook with the train's vibrations, captured two-toned blue seats and overhead luggage racks and a billboard advertising a local radio show. A metal-on-metal screech arose as a train engaged its brakes while pulling into a station. I read the "Watch The Gap" warnings on the platform floor as "I" disembarked.
The plethora of YouTube videos that regular people have made about their experiences offers a writer access to places he or she hasn't been (or hasn't been attentive enough to remember). Like the ones I viewed, many are from a first-person point of view that allows you to "be" riding a train or scuba diving or ski diving.
The setting for my next novel is a theme park. Have I gone on thrill rides like the ones in my fictional setting? Sure. But did I take notes? (Upside down? And anyway, I was too busy screaming.) Fortunately for me, there are a whole lot of roller coaster fans out there whose YouTube videos will allow me to ride again—this time from my living room—and will even let me pause, when necessary, to take out a pen.
--Posted June 26, 2009