Top-Secret Research: My Top 5 Research Books

One of my favorite parts of writing is the research. It gives me a lovely little excuse for looking into the most bizarre topics on earth. How to stop a runaway camel? Read up on that. How to conduct a seance? That, too. How to disarm a mugger and trounce him using nothing but your bare hands? Been there, read that chapter, haven’t yet had a chance to try it out, thank the Lord.

If you’ll notice, there one key word in the above questions. Read. The number one raygun (What? I like sci-fi.) in the writer’s arsenal. Even with Google and Yahoo! Ask, I think books still win hands-down for pure quality. Granted, you can find things faster if you use online search engines, but you’ve got no guarantee that it’s true. Of course, it can be the same with printed material, but the chance is lower. Anywhoozle, the main thing I like about books as research tools is that they’re so much more comprehensive. Any idiot can put together a website or write a blog (ahem) about a topic, listing all the common facts, but someone who’s dedicated enough to write a book about it? It’s a pretty safe bet that they’re going to have info that no blogger knows. You can get all the minuscule little details and obscure facts known only to experts in whatever field you’re looking into. Assuming the book is good, anyway. And that brings me to the list. Here are my favorite research books. Salud!

1. The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook

We’ve all been there. A new character walks across the page and he needs a name, but your mind is totally blank. Not only that, but this character is special. He’s Irish, therefore he has to have an ethnically accurate name, despite the fact that you know no Irish names outside of Patrick, Sean, and Colleen. What do you do? Find yourself a Sourcebook. I found it totally by accident at the local library and fell in love with it. Not only is it comprehensive (Do not, under any circumstances, drop it. You may turn your house into a crater.), but it’s so organized. It has a section for common first and last names of various countries, lists of the most common names from various eras, and a full section of naming tips from well-known authors.

2. Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected

I hate editing. It irks me to the very marrow, but I’m still stuck doing it. And this lengthily titled book has a lot of tips for the editorially impaired. Since it’s written by a real-live editor, the title is pretty accurate: it points out common issues and how to fix them. It delves into nearly every possible facet of the novel, from character development to plot to the editor’s pet peeves. In my case, at least, it helped pinpoint a few things that weren’t working and detracted from the story. Hopefully, it can help in yours, too.

3. The Action Hero’s Handbook

*grins* This was a fun read. While I wouldn’t recommend using this as the definitive guide to handling yourself in tense situations, it has a nice plausibility to it, and that’s pretty well all you need for a novel. ‘Cause, really, how many fans are there who have actually caught a Great White and care enough to send a nasty complaint letter if you didn’t do it right in your book? In Handbook, the authors go through all the typical action hero skills. Handling a hostage situation, disarming thugs, picking your way out of handcuffs…you know the stuff. It has a wide range of high-flying topics, so anything you adventure writers need is likely to be there.

4. The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Travel

This one is similar to #3, but it’s topics are less for the suave, macho chap and more for the everyperson who finds themselves in trouble abroad. Again, I wouldn’t recommend this as a real-life guidebook, but it all sounds good. It lists all the typical worries for paranoid travelers, and therefore all the wonderful, dastardly things that you can throw at your vagabond characters–as well as the brilliant solutions to help them escape. Everything from halting a runaway camel to jumping from a moving train to thwarting a pickpocket is covered, as well as everything in between. Perfect for the imaginary adventurer (e.g. me)!

5. Rules, Britannia


This one is obviously a bit more specialized, but it’s a favorite for me, since my main character is British and I am not. It’s a nice insight into the differences between Britons and Americans, as well as the customs, slang, and psychology of our pals across the pond. It’s also a favorite because I’m a huge fan of anything remotely British, but I digress. If you’re writing about another culture, there are typically tons of books written by either a native or a transplant who’s spent a great deal of time in your country of interest. Just Google it.

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