I wrote an article called Weapons of Mass Characterization recently for my chapter’s newsletter and it got me to thinking about the research books that I use regularly. As my daughter will attest, I’m something of a research book whore. I have boxes of research books, even though I can easily call up the info on the internet. But I can’t quite make myself get rid of these. Some of them are out of print, I’m sure. Even more are probably out dated. Yet, they still fill up a corner of my home office. (And DD, they likely always will).
So what fills these boxes?
I find that many of them deal with characterization. I use them to flesh out my characters, build the GMC or the backstory. I use Linda Goodman’s Love Signs for this. Even though I’m not a believer in astrology, I like the information presented on how people interact. It gives me strengths and weaknesses, flaws and weapons. Weapons are what I call those elements of a character that drives their reactions. For instance, a person who has been on the receiving end of great betrayal will react to deceit a different way than someone who thinks people are basically honest.
The Emotions Thesaurus is relatively a new addition to my library. With the motto “show don’t tell” ringing in my brain, I like how the thesaurus not gives me the traits that go along with a particular emotion, it gives me physical responses. Anger can be shown as a clenched fist, but also as a steely silence.
Do you ever find yourself using the same words over and over and over…yeah, like that. The Synonym Finder is an easy reference thesaurus that is much more user friendly than a typical thesaurus. It’s arranged like a dictionary and I find it much easier to thumb through the listing.
And what keeper shelf is full without Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon? Between this and the Writer’s Brainstorming Kit, both from Gryphon Books for Writers, I’m not sure which I use more. Given my propensity for charts, these books just tickle my fancy in every way. GMC helps me build a skeleton while the Brainstorming Kit puts flesh on the bones. The Brainstorming Kit helps me find unique ways of looking at a trait that could be a cliché.
Since I like to murder people (in my books) I’m also a fan of the Howdunit Series which publishes fun books like Modus Operadi: A Writer’s Guide to How Criminals Think and Cause of Death: A Writer’s Guide to Death, Murder and Forensic Medicine. I’m not a gritty police procedural writer but I want things to be relatively accurate
When I was writing historicals, I loved using the Everyday Life in America series. Whether you’re writing Colonial America or post-Civil War, they had good books that gave the textural elements of small towns or big cities, general info on housing, transportation, marriage, family and the changing landscape of a country changing day by day.
What’s your favorite research tool?