Now this is the point in my presentation where I usually hit on some very basic information. I’m talking about places to look for information about your topic on the internet, and I’ll give you some starting points (beyond Wikipedia) here.
My plea is, once again, don’t reinvent the wheel. If you’re writing fiction, you don’t have time to be digging up dinosaurs. Instead, check out a webpage by someone who has.
In the same vein, go ahead and see what other writers have left for you. Many writers WANT to be helpful. They want to help new writers and curious readers find information. So if you know of a writer who writes in the same time period/place that you’re researching…check out their webpage. Writers often have lists of resources they’ve alread vetted.
Here’s an example. If you type in to your Google search “Writer’s Resources Regency Romance”, the first page of results includes the webpages of…
In addition, there are other resources listed on that page, mostly maintained by groups, including…
Why hunt down a million resources when other writers have done it for you?
Writer’s Group Recommendations
In addition to using writers groups online resources, if you join some writers groups, you can often throw out a question to the membership at large. I am a member of two writers groups (Codex and SFNovelists), and if I have a question, I can post it on either group and I have no doubt that some author will have researched this information before me. So take advantage of those members and their big brains!
Group Resource Pages
A lot of those groups have resource pages (in addition to their forums) that will show up in Google searches, but you can also go hunting for them. Example: Absolute Write’s Resources Page.
An invaluable resource if you’re looking for very specific regional info (ex: who went to what party) check newspaper archives. Many are available online now, and some parts are free.
Remember I told a story about asking the Librarian about gambling in 1909 in Saratoga Springs and she didn’t have anything in her file? Well, I was hunting through the NYTimes Archive (where everything prior to 1923 is free), and stumbled over the answer. Apparently the Saratoga Springs town council outlawed gambling within the town limits that year..and it made the paper in NYC. People who would travel to Saratoga Springs to vacation wanted to know.
And I wouldn’t have found that information if not skimming through a regional paper.
(BTW, being a good citizen, I forwarded the link of that article to the aforementioned librarian, and she put it in her file for future users.)
Google Maps/Street View
Now a last basic resource that I encourage people to use is Google Maps and Street View.
For many cities, their historic districts go on mainly unchanged for centuries. Where I was working (Porto), the inner part of the city hasn’t changed much since 1902…so I could actually use Google Street View to see the same narrow streets that my characters would have seen.
(Remember, this is NOT true for cities that were bombed in various wars, and is hit and miss for cities that regularly burn, like London. Porto, where most of the buildings are granite, doesn’t see a lot of change. Saratoga Springs, on the other hand , had wood buildings that often burned down. So please be aware of history before you take what Google shows you for granted.)
AND GRATIS: A couple of reminders.
If you find a site that’s vital to you, bookmark it. I suggest making a separate bookmark file for each setting.
If you find a site that might be vital during edits, consider making a copy of the pertinent pages either in Word, or printing them out. I tend to keep vital things (like calendars) in a 3-ring binder, because often when I’m editing I’m away from my computer. Just a suggestion!
Next Week: Additional Weirder Places to Hunt
RRH Confession #7
I learned to rappel, thinking that I would use this someday in a book. To this day, I have never used rappelling in any story.
On the other hand, the knowledge I gained in that class of knots has always stood me in good stead. (Especially when I took sailing classes and seemed like the only one who could tie decent knots.)