Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
by Natalie Goldberg. Writers’ Digest offered books on plotting, characters, one book titled Beginnings, Middles, and Ends by Nancy Kress, and the list goes on and on. I have twenty or thirty books on my shelves that I have collected over the years. All of them are by great writers. Most of them tell you the same thing–some in simple, beginners’ terms, others are more advanced–but the important things about these books is at they were all written to aid the writer in his/her efforts.
I’ve only named two of the books I’ve read and cherished for their advice and wisdom. I have some that are more closely related to the craft of writing in the various genres that I enjoy. Some of these books, likes ones on forensics for the mystery writer or police procedure are great, but they soon were out of date as science and techniques changed through the years. So in order to keep up with the times and not date my stories I had to buy more recently edited or published books. This became an exhaustive and expensive problem. My book shelves soon ran over. A friend asked me if I collected books on writing. I didn’t quite know what to say to her. Collecting was not my intent. So I had to start winnowing down my books in order to make room on my shelves for things I preferred to collect.
The long and the short of it for me was that I kept the more generic books in favor of research for subjects like forensics and police procedures. I now turn to people who currently work in the specific areas in which I need current information. It’s far easier and I find it helps my writing more than reading a book.
There are lots of ways to learn new things now. The internet, used carefully, can help increase your knowledge, but people are where it’s really at. People give you a deeper knowledge than any book can give. When I’m writing a story about a serial killer, I turn to the books of Ann Rule. She not only tells you the what, where and why of the killer, but she breathes life into the victim. She tells you who they were and why their life had meaning. It has made me a more thoughtful writer.
When I’m writing a fantasy, I turn to Andrew Lang, Aesop, the Brothers Grim and thousands of folktales and myths written before me to understand the mind of those who came before me and what these tales were really about. It helps me with theme, plot and character.
So when you begin writing a story of any kind, read and read and read again. Read all you can find. Read things that you don’t really think have anything to do with what you’re writing. Use the guiding wisdom of books on craft, but be careful that anything to do with the modern world or the past are your only source possible for the information. You may actually find people who know more about the subject than any book you may read. And people love to share their knowledge.
How do you research? What sources help you the most?