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by Ruth Harris
riters write—except when we're staring into space or out the window, at a blank screen or an unfinished sentence.
From first draft to final draft, we spend a lot of our time looking for help, info, inspiration. Which is why the right list at the right time is a writer's best friend.
We are living in the information age. Just about anything a writer wants to know or needs to find out is just a few keystrokes away. No more trips to the library. No more scrolling through hard-to-read microfiche. No more searching through heavy tomes to find that one piece of information you're looking for.
- a name—or a job or hometown—for a character
- character traits, good and bad, for a hero, a villain or someone in between
- a great setting for a book or a scene
- to know what a lawyer, brick layer or middle manager actually does all day long
- where a stripper buys her pasties and g-strings or an expert mountain climber stocks up on crampons and ice axes
- a way for the bad guy to blow up a fishing shack or the hero to go beyond first aid to save a life
Research—the World Beyond Google
- Which president came before Theodore Roosevelt?
- How does your macho, orchid-loving PI revive a dying phaleonopsis?
- What does SPECTRE stand for?
- Which cities have the highest murder rates?
- How many times has Tony Bennett sung I Left My Heart In San Francisco?
are the basic go-tos but there are many other sites (just about all of them FREE) that will answer your questions and, even better, give you answers to the questions you didn't even think to ask.
Here is a brief round up of sites
I have found indispensable for reference/research including a few that aren't usually thought of as reference sources.
The New York Times
maintains a massive searchable archive containing more than 13 million articles dating from 1851. You can search by author, section, or time periods from past 24 hours, past year or by specific dates.
The Washington Post
maintains a searchable archive dating from 2005. (For dates prior to 2005, there is a paid archive search.)
, New York's Daily News
and the BBC
also offer valuable search options.
magazine's archive extends from 1923 to the present and includes the weekly's covers for a visual look at what made the headlines week by week during most of the 20th Century and all of the 21st.
The Pew Research Center
offers a searchable database covering everything from demographic data and scandals to international affairs and global religious beliefs.
is a fact-checker for the Internet.
Fashion, fads, pop culture:
From hair dos to manicures, grunge to prep: If you need a clue about what your characters are or were wearing or detailed info about their grooming routines, Vogue
is the place to go.
Need to jog your memory about books, TV, movies and music? Try Entertainment Weekly
The dish on celebs? Need inspiration from human-interest stories? What about The Sexiest Man Alive? People
is the place to go. And not to forget: James Bond trivia
For the raciest in bathing suits or a who's who and what's what in the locker room and on the gridiron, the skating rink, the baseball diamond or the tennis court, Sports Illustrated
will clue you in. Writing for a younger demo? SI Kids
has the deets.
Hung up for a movie or TV series quote? This site will probably know
Want to ask an expert?
Sign up with Quora
where you can choose from over 400,000 topics to create a feed of information tuned to your interests. Google Plus
has communities devoted to just about any subject you can think of.
Messing with the Mafia? From Omertà
to La Cosa Nostra
, from Al Capone to John Gotti, the answers are here
Not the usual suspects:
are usually not considered research sites but they are gold mines of ideas presented visually and, in the case of eBay and Etsy, items described in detail—a big help when you don't know what this or that knicknack or collectible is called or when you want to find a popular hobby or off-beat interest for a character.
Need a name for a Catalan or Chinese character? Want a name for a hillbilly, a witch, a rapper? A name with ancient Celtic, Biblical or literary allusions? Try the name generator at Behind the Name
Looking for location but maps don't do the job? Travel blogs offer lots of ideas and lots of quirky info. Here are a few to start you off: Top 50 travel blogs
. 25 top blogs for solo female travelers
. Huffington Post's
choice of best travel
Language and lingo:
Consult the Oxford
dictionaries in a variety of languages including: British English, American English, German, French, and Spanish. The Oxford biographical dictionary
contains bios of almost 60,000 people, English and beyond.
A dictionary on steroids, WordHippo
tells you the meaning of a word and also finds synonyms, antonyms, words that rhyme with it, sentences containing it, other words starting or ending with it, its etymology, and much more. Type in what you are looking for, choose the appropriate category and WordHippo will come up with the results, as well as give one-click links to other data for the word.
Streetwise slang? Here's the guide to current lingo: urban dictionary
Contemporary art? Try MOMA
in New York City or the Metropolitan Museum
. In San Francisco, try the SFMOMA
, or MOCA in Los Angeles
, Pop art
, and Asian/Oriental
From the Congo to the Côte d'Ivoire: African art
From Grandma Moses to Amish quilts.
Science? Get information about Mind & Brain, Plants & Animals, Earth & Climate, Space & Time, Matter & Energy, Computers & Math, Fossils & Ruins at ScienceDaily
Health and medicine? Rely on the experts at the Mayo Clinic
Jobs and careers
? Here are 12,000 to choose from.
Need more ideas for occupations? Try this A-Z list
Don't even know what to look for next? Give this site a vague idea of what you're interested in and they will recommend websites/photos/videos: StumbleUpon
Characters and character traits:
Nasty girl or boy wizard? Villain or hero? Damsel in distress or burnt-out cop on the beat? Characters need to be complex and sometimes contradictory.
Here's a list of 638 primary character traits
Here's another list of 443 character traits
organized especially for fiction writers.
A third list, simple and bare bones, highlights basic character traits
These are the lists you make for yourself. They can comprise any subject or field of reference and can be kept digitally, in pen and paper notebooks or on spreadsheets. They can include inspirational quotes and motivational videos, the names of formatters, editors and cover designers, notes of deadlines and promo dates.
These lists are personal and custom-crafted. Because they arise from your own requirements and interests, they are 100% certified organic and pesticide-free.
What about you, Scriveners? Do you have a favorite go-to research site? Do add it in the comments! I've only recently discovered Quora and it's given me dozens of ideas.
We are trying something new with the comments. We are now allowing commenters without IDs and we put the CAPTCHA back on, since now it's not a bunch of unreadable blobs, but just a box to check to say you're not a robot. So if you've had trouble commenting before, do try again
News! My piece Short is the New Long—telling you why you should write more short fiction—is featured in the 2016 Novel and Short Story Writer's Market: "the most trusted guide to getting published." I bought every edition of the Writer's Market for decades. Now I'm in it. Kind of a milestone...Anne
BOOK OF THE WEEK
A Kiss at Kihali: sweet romance set against the backdrop of African animal rescue
A must-read for animal lovers.
Beautiful and inspirational, A KISS AT KIHALI draws on the power of human-animal relationships, the heroic accomplishments of African animal orphanages, and the people, foreign and Kenyan, drawn to careers involving the care and conservation of wild animals. Filled with drama and danger that lead to a happy ending, A KISS AT KIHALI will appeal to readers who love tender romance and who have personally experienced the intense, mystical bond between humans and animals.
"A must-read for anyone who cares about animals and the environment, because what we do to them, we do to ourselves”...
bestselling author Sibel Hodge
The Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Contest. $10 fee
Unpublished fiction. 1500 words or less. Simultaneous submissions ARE welcome. All entries will be considered for publication in Fiction Southeast.
(a prestigious journal that has published people like Joyce Carol Oates) Winner gets $200 and publication. Deadline: Dec. 1st
The Central Coast Writers Conference.
One of the best little Writers Conferences around! You can attend Anne's workshops on How to Write 21st Century Prose
and How to Deal with Reviews
and even have her critique your work. September 19-20.
Real Simple's eighth annual Life Lessons Essay Contest
FREE to enter, First prize: $3,000 for an essay of up to 1500 words on: "What Single Decision Changed Your Life?" Would your world now be completely different if, at some point in the past, you hadn't made a seemingly random choice? Deadline Sept 21.
BARTLEBY SNOPES CONTEST $10 FOR UNLIMITED ENTRIES
. Compose a short story entirely of dialogue. Must be under 2,000 words. Your entry cannot use any narration (this includes tag lines such as he said, she said, etc.). These are the only rules. 5 finalists will also appear in Issue 15 of the magazine. Last year they awarded $2,380 in prize money. Deadline: September 15.
Congrats to Florence Cronin,
whose humorous short story was short-listed in the Mark Twain Humor Writing Contest!
Labels: A Kiss at Kihali, Google+, Help for Writers, How to research a book online, Quora, RefDesk.com, Research, Ruth Harris, Writers Toolbox