Even if you do most of your writing on a computer like I do(aside from the random note occasionally scribbled on the nearest piece of paper), sometimes it is nice to be able to refer to a good old-fashioned book every now and then. There is only one ‘book shop’ here in Tonga, although it more closely resembles a news agency. So the best place to find books is at the flea market, or in second-hand stores. I’ve found some really great novels by regularly trawling through the flea markets, and Value City (the best second-hand store in Tonga), but I wanted to share with you some of the best reference books I’ve found which have helped me with my writing.
My favourite find so far has been my Roget’s Thesaurus. It’s from the eighties so some of the words are a bit outdated, but it is hands down my favourite writing reference book. Instead of being organised like a traditional thesaurus, words in Roget’s Thesaurus are grouped together by meaning. Words are first divided into six classes, then further into divisions, and again into sections (Click here if you want to see a full break down). This allows you to discovers shades of meaning in similar words rather than just swapping out synonyms until you find a word that is good enough. It is so helpful for when you have the right word on the tip of your tongue but can’t quite grasp it. Instead of typing questions into Google you can hunt through the paths of words until you capture the right one.
On a similar note is J.I. Rodale’s The Word Finder. Rather than helping you find an alternative word for one you dislike, The World Finder helps you flesh out the space around the word to increase the depth and nuance of a phrase. Although it has become unpopular to use adverbs, the suggestions of more interesting verbs, and colourful adjectives are still useful. My copy is quite old (from the late forties) so many of the suggestions seem quite dated, but this is actually really helpful if you are writing older characters, or stories that are set in the past. Old dictionaries, thesaurus, and encyclopedias are unbelievably helpful when trying to create authentic dialogue for characters born in another time.
The Miriam Webster Literary Encyclopedia is filled with everything you could ever want to know about literature up until the point it was published (which in the case of my copy is 1995). As well as literary works and authors from across the globe (both classic and modern), the encyclopedia indexes: literary styles and movements; fictional, mythological, and folkloric figures; literary terms; scholar and critic; and literary landmarks, prizes, and journals. It is more than 1200 pages long and is ideal for clarifying any information that might be relevant to the craft of writing.
While the books mentioned above are useful for all writers, the novel I am writing is urban fantasy and the following books are ones that I have found personally helpful with that endeavor:
- The Virago Book of Fairy Tales by Angela Carter
- The Fairy Bible by Teresa Moorey
- Dictionary of the Occult by Geddes and Grosset
- In Touch with the Earth: A-Z of Ailments by Pat Collins (lists of ailments and associated natural remedies)
- In Touch with the Earth: Pat’s Herbal Recipes by Pat Collins
The first three books in this list were all found at the flea market here in Tonga. The two by Pat Collins belong to my mother, who bought them after taking a course on how to make herbal remedies taught by Pat.
While it is always nice to refer to a physical book, in this day and age you absolutely cannot overestimate the usefulness of the internet. Not only is it constantly up to date, it is free, and indescribably expansive. Want to use an ancient language in your writing? There’s a site for that: Lexicity. Want to track ley lines across various parts of the globe? There’s a Google Earth overlay. And any writer who says they haven’t spent time perusing baby name websites is probably lying. Public transport websites can teach you how to describe travelling around a city you’ve never been to, and the CIA World Factbook can tell you the vital facts about any country in the world. The biggest problem, for me anyway, is getting lost in the facts and distracted from my purpose. So a balance of physical books and the wonders of the internet helps me to focus on what I’m doing without letting research get in the way of writing.