When I decided to set SCARLET’S big climax scene in Paris, it was important to me to choose the perfect location for it to take place. I wanted something that had historical importance and beautiful architectural details that I could use to add realism and atmosphere to the story, but that wasn’t entirely overdone (like the Eiffel Tower or the Moulin Rouge).
In the end, and with some help from blog readers, I decided to set some of those critical scenes in Le Palais Garnier—the Paris Opera House.
As I mentioned before on the Scarlet Blog Tour, this posed one tiny little problem: I’ve never been to France! Which meant I had to be creative with how I researched the setting if I was going to do it justice.
I began with Google Maps—my go-to setting resource. Using Google Maps, I “walked” up and down the streets surrounding the Opera House, taking notes as to its impressive size, the intimidating porticos, the enormous gold sculptures of angels peering down as one approached the arched doorways.
I also spotted—or thought that I spotted—a fountain just across the street from the main entrance. And I thought: Perfect! I can use that. (We’ll come back to that later.)
I also spent some time searching for images of the Opera House’s interior, and reading the descriptions of different architectural materials described on the Opera House’s web site. Which was great, but… it still left me with a lot of questions, largely about the layout of the building. The Opera House has a small library in it… but where? I learned about a beautiful room called “La Rotonde de la Lune” and I knew I had to use it (for the Lunar reference, obviously), but… how does one get to the Rotunda?
It seemed I had hit a wall with my research until—bless the web site design team—I stumbled on a researchers dream.
A virtual tour exists on Le Palais Garnier’s web site.
Using the zoom, adjust, turn, and walk features, I was able to explore the Opera House in a way I never could have without buying an airplane ticket. I began to gather answers to some of those burning questions—where does that staircase lead? What’s through that door? How do we get to the theater balconies?
I could get a close-up look at many of the sculptures, decide if a ceiling should have murals or chandeliers or both, insert paintings or mirrors on the walls and determine if they should have gold frames or silver.
Naturally, of about ten pages of description I wrote down using the virtual tour, only a few paragraphs made it into the final book. But I hope those paragraphs will provide readers with the sensation of authenticity I was striving for.
The virtual tour isn’t perfect. It doesn’t go backstage (into the dressing rooms, prop storage, etc.), which meant I still had to use my imagination for some important areas. And the program is a little slow and jerky, which can get frustrating when you spend a lot of time with it. It’s certainly not like actually being there.
But—it made an enormous difference on the writing of these chapters.
It also saved my fountain scene.
Because, after I’d entirely rewritten the climax using the fountain I first spotted across the street, I made a disconcerting discovery. What I’d thought was a fountain on Google Maps was actually the entrance to the subway tunnels. Argh!
So I went back to the drawing board and spent some more time perusing the Virtual Tour of the Opera House. And what did I stumble upon, quite by accident?
A fountain! In the sublevel beneath the main foyer! (Or, at least, a basin… which was close enough.)
Clearly, that part was fate.
You can virtually tour the Opera House yourself HERE.
Thank you so much for dropping by, Marissa. Le Palais Garnier is absolutely GORGEOUS. You couldn't have picked a better setting!
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