My novel involves quite a bit of travel. It begins in Armenia, moves to Asia Minor, then Rome, Moesia, Ephesus, Capadoccia, Persia, Edessa, Armenia again. Part of my job with researching this book was figuing out how my characters would get from place to place, the routes they would take, and how long they would travel for. Unfortunately for me, most of that "figuring out" involved hours of researching the speed of wagons, carriages, boats, armies, etc. Then, poring over a dozen maps, I'd try to plot out the most reasonable route and calculate the distance to estimate the time (FYI - writers aren't exactly known for their math skills).
I managed it, but I'd guess I spent well over a hundred hours just on these little details, details that take up no more than a few lines in my novel but have the potential to discredit me if I get them wrong. Even though I put so much into it, I still felt nervous, wondering if I really got it right.
Then last week I was reading the blog of historical novelist Gary Corby and came across a post about something called ORBIS. Essentially, Stanford University has created a (FREE!) resource that would have made my hundred hours of research into 15 minutes. You type in any two cities in the Roman Empire. Then you type in the month of travel and your preferences (i.e., ox cart or fast army march), and it plots out the route, shows you how many days it would take, which cities you would pass through, even how much it would cost (in 220 C.E.).
I am SO happy to have learned about this! I wish it existed years ago, but it was really nice to type in all my character's journeys and discover that my tedious calculations were overall pretty accurate. Thank you, Stanford!
We are letters from Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.