Really Useful Links: Research by Paul Anthony Shortt | Resources | Links for Writers

Paul Anthony Shortt

Whether you like to plot out your book completely in advance or dive right in and see where inspiration takes you, one of the most important jobs for any author is research. Genre tastes differ. Some people like action while others prefer slow, emotion-driven character studies. But getting facts wrong is a dead cert to make you look unprofessional. There are times it can be brushed off with good humour. Jim Butcher has happily laughed off certain geographical errors in the Dresden Files novels by reminding readers that Harry gets hit in the head a lot, so he forgets things. But not every author will get off so lightly. Dan Brown and EL James have both come under fire for inaccurate details, some of which are pivotal elements of the plot.

Don’t take the risk.

Do your research before, during, and after you write.

Today I’m going to provide my top ten online resources for your research:

1: Wikipedia – While it does get some flak for past inaccuracies, Wikipedia is an excellent starting point for research, particularly information about cities and countries, as these pages tend to be well-maintained and collect a wide range of data in one place.

2: Snopes – Following on with the importance of fact-checking, Snopes might be a bit of a killjoy site, spoiling many of our favourite shock Facebook headlines, but it’s an oft-neglected tool for writers. Particularly when it comes to referencing real-world events or any anecdote you want to include but can’t locate an original source for, it’s the number one resource for making sure you don’t fall for a hoax or include plot elements you can’t verify. Of course, that’s not to say you can’t include such elements anyway, but you will want to make sure that doing so does not break the verisimilitude of your setting, and fits with your genre conventions.

3: Merriam-Webster Online – Keeping a good dictionary site open while you work is always big and clever, and while any online dictionary will do, Merriam-Webster contains arguably the most comprehensive database of accepted words in the English language.

4: E Learn English Language – This bog maintains a detailed list of the most common errors made by even native English speakers. Using “should of” instead of “should have” or mixing up “affect” and “effect” are mistakes that will stand out and no matter how good your writing is, they will spoil the experience for your readers.

5: Google Scholar – This is a specialised version of the Google search engine that produces only academic results, useful for any story dependent on correct scientific and historical data.

6: Web MD – Often the subject of Internet humour about the terrifying results that can be returned from the most mundane symptoms, Web MD is a vast resource of medical facts and advice. If you want to include characters suffering from particular diseases or injuries, you’ll want to make sure their symptoms, physical limitations, and potential treatment are all represented accurately.

7: Godchecker and Sacred Texts – I include these two as a single entry since they deal with very similar subjects. Whether you want to accurately portray world religions and mythology, or draw on these for inspiration, you would be hard-pressed to find better databases of gods, religion, folklore, and myth, than these two sites.

8: How To Fight Write – Fight scenes are some of my favourite things to write, but they’re also exceptionally difficult to do well. Generations of movies and television shows have left us imaging all kinds of flashy moves and horrendous injury are simply the kinds of things characters can do without a problem. But readers tend to want a little more realism to violent acts. How To Fight Write goes through various examples of violent situations, and how to write them well. You can even send in questions about any subject you need specifics on.

Of course, these are just the more well-known resources. There are plenty of specialist websites that focus on diverse subjects. Searching these sites can save you a lot of time and often they will include details and further research material not shown on broader information websites. Author and blogger Tina Hunter has a list of her top 10 research tools for authors, and Write To Done has an excellent article on research methods, including a list of further websites to use when you need to make absolutely certain you get your facts straight.

9: Google Maps – It used to be the case that if you wanted to write about a place, you either had to go there or buy a tour guide and hope there were decent pictures. These days, Google Maps provides the most comprehensive and detailed reference tool for nearly any location in the world. You can work out locations, distances, travel times, and even give accurate descriptions with the use of the Street View function.

10: – No, not to go hunting for the mansion you’ll buy when you’ve hit the big time, but for points you wouldn’t normally think to check up on, like typical house layouts or property prices in certain areas. If you have a struggling artist living in a house in an expensive neighbourhood, you’re going to need to explain why they can afford to live there. (Special thanks to Vanessa O’Loughlin for this one!)

(Bonus!) 11: TV Tropes – I couldn’t resist including this one as an extra. Unlike the other sites on this list, TV Tropes is important not as a fact-checking tool, but for seeing where your book fits in the market. Is a particular narrative event you want to include considered a cliché? Has your cunning plot twist been used before? Does one of your characters fit a stereotype that’s considered problematic or over-used? You can learn an awful lot from how the Tropers discuss the work of those who’ve gone before you.

Of course there are countless other resources out there, but these should give you a solid base to start from. Now get learning and get writing.

(c) Paul Anthony Shortt

About the author

Paul Anthony Shortt believes in magic and monsters; in ghosts and fairies, the creatures that lurk under the bed and inside the closet. The things that live in the dark, and the heroes who stand against them. Above all, he believes that stories have the power to change the world, and the most important stories are the ones which show that monsters can be beaten.
Paul’s work includes the Memory Wars Trilogy and the Lady Raven Series. His short fiction has appeared in the Amazon #1 bestselling anthology, Sojourn Volume 2.



Twitter: @PAShortt

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