Favorites in Research/Reference Materials for Writers

01 May

This may be my all-time-most-boring blog title, but I really couldn’t come up with anything titillating. I did consider “Sex Research: Just Kidding” but discarded it in the interests of maintaining collegial relations with my sister bloggers. Of course, there was the added issue of not really writing about sex, but it’s not like this minor fact stops advertisers who use it to sell everything from drain snakes to hamburgers . . . ahem, I digress (stay tuned for Meredith tomorrow).

Multiple writers – on this blog and others — comment upon ways they spark their muse and delve into background information to lend authenticity to their stories. Consider this my 2-cent contribution to the treasury of opinion and suggestion offered by the published and not-yet-published around the world.

Obviously, the internet is a big option. I also recommend scenic calendars (last year’s issues are usually cheap – go figure) to aid in descriptions of places and to consider dimensions and spatial relations. Sometimes, though, (and this is why I maintain a library aside from my e-reader) I just need to hold a book in my hand and thumb through the pages. A couple of weeks ago I introduced my best buddy, Oxy the Thesaurus, and mentioned my predilection for dictionaries. Beyond these staples, I’ve collected an odd assortment of books and publications to which I find myself gravitating for information and inspiration. It’s a little like the girly grab bag or proverbial box-o-chocolates. You never know . . .

Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, 2nd Ed.
Webster’s New College Dictionary
~ No explanation is needed for these gems. Oxy, in particular, helps me with everything from word choice to obscure architectural styles.

Forensics: A Guide for Writers – by D.P. Lyle, MD
Criminal Law for the Criminal Justice Professional – by Norman Garland
Ethics in Crime and Justice – by Joycelyn Pollock
~ Since I write stories about naughty incidents with much bloodletting and woe, I’ve found it useful to a) understand differences in blood splatter, and b) determine the protocol for handling evidence or the role of a prosecutor in setting charges.

The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier – by Bonnie Trenga
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms – by Chris Baldick
~ I have the basic subject/predicate thing down, but general insecurity with shades of OCD prompts me to check. So, I either call my mom (a retired English teacher) or pull out something like Trenga’s ‘Curious Case’. Literary Terms? I’ve no formal training in writing fiction and most writers know TONS more about the study and analysis of writing. Usually, I ask for explanations, but when I’m tired of appearing intellectually gauche, I pull out Baldick. (I really can’t believe you . . . I’m engaged in a serious blog here.)

The Cornell Book of Herbs & Edible Flowers – by Jeanne Mackin
The Impatient Gardener – by Jerry Baker
~ I’ve found everything from character names, obscure references to myths about seasons and vegetation to information about poisonous plants.

The Night Sky Revealed – by Martin Ratcliffe, charts by Charles Nix
~This had collected dust for a few years in one of my kids’ closets. I haven’t used it for a story yet, but it’s served as a lovely distraction when I’m procrastinating.

The Definitive Book of Body Language – by Allan/Barbara Pease
~ Aside from using this to discern the true intent of family and friends (and dates), this book gives me ideas for ways to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’. I picked it up a year or so ago on Peggy’s recommendation and it’s been a jewel.

The Yellow Pages  . . . and no, I’m not talking about anything online.
~Pull out your good old handy dandy bulky directory and just peruse. The range of businesses, advertising gimmicks, odd professions and marketing catchphrases may spark an idea for back story, a sub plot, a scene description, or even a character name. I found everything from the ‘Environmental Abrasives Warehouse’ (yep, under the category Abrasives . . . and it wasn’t the only listing. Who knew?) to a heading for Medical & Infectious Waste Disposal (I couldn’t even stomach listing the business names, but it gives me all sorts of ideas for ways to torture my characters) to a section entitled Wineries.

I didn’t recognize a few of the vineyards. CLEARLY, more research is in order.

Do you have any unusual books or suggestions for unexpected writing resources that might be hiding in our closets or a neighbor’s garage sale? Any thoughts on a better title for this blog?


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12 responses to “Favorites in Research/Reference Materials for Writers

  1. ramblingsfromtheleft

    May 1, 2012 at 6:12 AM

    Liz, this is a great list of resources and I will copy to my research file and put some on my “purchase” list. I use telephone books for names, street maps, google live (where you can acutally be on a street anywhere in the world), and I did find a site for herbs for one of my mysteries. I lean on the internet, and your list of books to keep handy makes sense for any of us in this for the long haul. Thanks 🙂

    • Liz Fredericks

      May 1, 2012 at 7:14 AM

      Google live is so much fun. Care to share the website on herbs . . . for the books, yeah, but I’m also trying to cook sometimes. Occasionally. 😉

  2. Janis McCurry

    May 1, 2012 at 7:02 AM

    “Research Reverence” or “Reference Reverence” sound like nice titles for the blog.

    My go-to for names is a baby name book because I like to know the meanings of the names so it fixes some of the character attributes.

    • Liz Fredericks

      May 1, 2012 at 7:15 AM

      I love baby name books. It hadn’t occurred to me to use the meaning to help with character attributes – very nice!

  3. Peggy Staggs

    May 1, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    I hesitate to answer this question. If a mental healthcare professional got a look at my bookcase…let’s just say I wouldn’t be walking around unattended.
    I have everything from Secret Signs and Symbols, to a deck of Wilderness Survival Skill cards to How to Hold a Crocodile all topped off with Encyclopedia of Urban Legends. I plan on using them all in a book. It would start out like a bad joke. A theological historian, a park ranger and a guy who writes how-to books are on vacation when…

    • Liz Fredericks

      May 1, 2012 at 8:39 AM

      Ooooh, I want a deck of survival skill cards! Now, in terms of the crocodile, someone (I’m not naming names here) got me hooked on Swamp People. This is now my deep, dark, guilty pleasure. This brings me to the other references we revere (thanks, Janis) . . . the internet . . . television . . . our local mental health care professionals.

  4. Clarissa Southwick

    May 1, 2012 at 8:30 AM

    What a great list! I will be checking these out for sure. My only “odd” sources are children’s non-fiction books. They have lots of pictures and “how-to’s” which are great for writing historicals.

  5. Liz Fredericks

    May 1, 2012 at 8:40 AM

    Children’s non-fiction books would be an excellent resource for historicals. The descriptions are simple and concise. Good thought!

  6. Meredith Allen Conner

    May 1, 2012 at 9:31 AM

    I have my book of baby names, who’s who in mythology, secret societies, 1000 spells and a few others. I still need to pick up Forensics: a guide for writers! I LOVE reference books. Oh and I have the complete encyclopedia of Crimes and Punishment. Yep a whole encyclopedia. I actually bought this before I started writing.
    Swamp People rock!

  7. Liz Fredericks

    May 1, 2012 at 2:02 PM

    Ok, this is the third time I’ve tried to reply to Meredith. I need a reference book on how to use this dang blog. Soooo, anyhoo, Mer, would you give me the complete cite for the crimes and punishment encyclopedia and the 1000 spells – seriously? Is there one for writing more, faster, better . . .?

  8. Lynn Mapp

    May 1, 2012 at 7:37 PM

    Sorry Liz. Are you asking me to think in May? That’s just crazy.

  9. Liz Fredericks

    May 1, 2012 at 10:30 PM

    I know, Lynn. I’m so sorry. 😉 it’ll be June soon . . . truly.


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