I’ll be honest: I’m one of those writers who usually has about a dozen tabs open while I’m writing. Not because I’m checking Facebook, but because I’m confirming details. Oh the details! I love them. I won’t even pretend I don’t. And over the years, I’ve developed a list of favorite resources. Because I’m such a nice person, I decided to share them in case they’re useful to any other writers.
Unless your work is fantasy/science fiction, you probably want your characters’ names (especially side characters) to echo their demographic details. SSA.gov is my go-to resource, providing the top 100 names for each state and birth year. A middle-aged man from Louisiana? Try Roy or Melvin. A 20-something woman from Vermont? How about Kayla or Alyssa? (Disclaimer: the site has been a bit wonky lately so if you get an error from your search, um, not my fault.)
If you’re looking for a name that has a specific meaning, names-of-baby.com allows you to search both by meaning and popularity. And when you’re looking for surnames, Behind the Name will let you browse by cultural ancestry or you can check out a list of the top 1,000 surnames in the U.S. And if you’re desperately seeking inspiration, they even have a Random Name Generator.
When I’m describing a character’s home, I like to know what’s realistic for the region and my character’s price range, and Realtor.com is a great tool for that. As a bonus, the sales listings usually have pictures. Obviously you can avoid describing a character’s home in detail, but since I’m a strongly visual person, I tend to picture every setting I write in detail, so I might as well try to make it as realistic as possible.
Another major setting detail is weather. But if you’re writing a contemporary genre and setting your book a couple years in the future, how’s a person to know? Well, by looking at the past, of course. WUnderground can tell you what the weather was like in past years in a certain month or week. And if your genre is historical, you can also view specific days. More weather data than you could ever possibly need, right at your fingertips.
This next tool probably won’t be useful to most of you, but since my last couple manuscripts have involved a beach, I’ve become enamored with the NOAA Tides & Currents information. Enter a date a couple years away (future or past), and boom—an exact time for the high tide and low tide. This helps me know whether my character will encounter a wide expanse speckled with shells or a narrow strip of sand becoming narrower by the moment.
So, I write murder/suspense, which means I need to know gory details sometimes (all the time). Like the specifics of firearm wounds. One of my favorite places to find a whole range of useful details is a British site called Explore Forensics. And going to a specific resource usually means I can avoid search the entire internet with mildly concerning terms like “how long to dismember a human body.” (Although, let’s be honest: disturbing Googling does still occur, on occasion.)
There you go, some of my favorite resources that help ensure the intricate details of my writing are realistic and accurate. Your turn. Do you have favorite resources that enhance your writing?