By Joe Moore
Over the last two days, my blogmates Clare and Kathryn have discussed researching. Since this is one of my favorite topics and the part of the writing process I thoroughly enjoy, I want to continue the thread.
For me, researching is a lot like digging for buried treasure. It's the excitement of uncovering those tidbits and morsels of fact that add seasoning and spice to the story. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a list of tricks and techniques I use in doing my research. And I’ve posted the info so anyone can use it. But before I reveal the secret location where I buried Joe’s Treasure Trove, here’s a sampling of what you'll find.
How do you come up with names for your characters, especially the minor and walk-on characters? Pop in a DVD of any movie and skip to the credit roll. There’s hundreds of mix and match names to choose from. And if you need foreign names, just pick a movie that was shot in a particular country. Even the major Hollywood studies use local crews when they're on location and list their names in the credits.
Don't want to watch a movie? There are even fake name generators online, some for specific genres like SF and fantasy.
How about background info on your characters? Easy. Just check the obituaries in a local or national paper. You’re sure to find biographies you can modify for your needs. There’s even a national obituary website where you can find thousands of bios to review. And don’t forget searching the faculty bios at hundreds of colleges and universities for background info.
Location, location, location
What about creating a sense of place? This one is really fun. Let’s say you need to describe a house where your character lives in a particular town. Start with one of the many real estate websites. A quick search will show you what the houses look like in a particular neighborhood or area, many with virtual tours. Google maps gives you the names of the surrounding streets, highways and landmarks. And Google Earth shows you the surrounding territory in detail including the names of hotels, restaurants and other landmarks that can make your story more realistic. And the hotels and restaurants almost always have a website so you can choose what your character had for dinner or what the view is from his hotel room.
I’ve also found that there are many detailed accounts of personal vacations, walking tours and excursions, many with photos, that give great descriptions of cities, towns, parks, monuments, and other unique locations that can add a touch of realism.
As an example of what to look for, a number of scenes in my current WIP take place in the underground Paris Catacombs. What’s it like down in the tunnels? Click here for a personal tour.
Loads of Links
Your hero is in Mexico City reading the morning news. What’s the name of the leading Mexican newspaper? There are websites that list and monitor thousands of newspapers from around the world.
You need statistics? Visit the CIA World Factbook or the Bureau of Justice Statistics websites. Need info on the global terrorists attacks that happed this morning? How about military terms and technology? Or how stuff works? What about access to over 39,000 public record databases? Or finding out what time it is right now in Nigeria or Singapore? There are websites for these and so many more for writer’s research resources.
And the most intriguing treasure of all: The Hidden Web. It’s over 500 times larger than the Internet and hardly anyone knows about it or how to access it. Now you will when you visit my research page.
As promised, here’s the location of my treasure trove, no digging needed. It's my present to all my writer friends. New links are added from time to time, so check back often. Enjoy!
Coming up on our Kill Zone Guest Sundays, watch for blogs from Paul Levine, Tim Maleeny, Oline Cogdill, James Scott Bell, and more.