Reading to Improve Your Writing

To make your writing sing with authenticity and accuracy, you need to read.  You need to read, read, read.  Not just other fiction, but that’s a good idea too.  I bet you thought I was going to recommend some great writing instructional books by famous writers.  Well, I’m not.  (Not that there aren’t some very good how-to-write books out there, but that’s not what I’m going to talk about.)

Are you an expert on all things? Me neither. What do I do when I have a topic in one of my books that I don’t know anything about? I read. Instead of having to take a trip to the nearest library, like writers had to do twenty years ago, I plop down in front of my computer and search the internet for information.

Sometimes it can take quite a while to sift through all the garbage and commercial entries to find useful information. I’d like to share with you some sources I’ve found that have tons of useful information.

1.  Remember all those how-to make things articles and the predictions for the future that Popular Science has had through the years? Here are  138 years of Popular Science for free browsing.

2.  Want to know when potato chips were invented? Just about everything you want to know about food history is in this site:   Food history A-Z

3.  Smithsonian Natural Museum of Natural History.  Need I say more?  Three of their sites: Research and Collections,   Explore a Topic, and  Education.

4.  Do you need to know more about the natural world around us?  Communities of Life .  This site holds links to information about plants, biomes, regions, etc.  Very valuable information to give authenticity to your writing,  Many links, a few do not work.

5.  How about Physical Geography? Whether you are making up a world or just want to write intelligently about our own this site has something for you.   The main purpose of Physical Geography is to explain the spatial characteristics of the various natural phenomena associated with the Earth’s hydrosphere, biosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere.

6.  If you write about death, dying, doctoring, or diseases, this is a useful site, written by a doctor.   How to Kill Your Imaginary Friends  (Don’t you just love that title?)   A writer’s guide to diseases and injuries, and how to use them effectively in fiction  (Go back through the archives to find really good stuff )

7.  Do you write science fiction? Here’s a helpful site on faster than light travel in outer space: Relativity and FTL Travel

8.  Here’s another good article about interstellar space travel. You Can Take It With You by Robert Metzger

9.  And one more space travel site:  Atomic Rockets of the Space Patrol.   This site was mainly intended for science fiction authors who wanted a little scientific accuracy so they can write SF “the way God and Heinlein intended” (Arlan Andrews’s Law). But anybody who is interested can play with the toys contained within, designing their own Planet Rangers Rocketships. It is assumed that the reader has enough knowledge to know the difference between a star and a planet, high school mathematics, and enough skill to use a pocket calculator.

10.  What about your alien life forms?  Here’s an article with an interesting take on making up alien animals:   Adapting Earth Animals into Alien Life Forms by S.L. Viehl    This is from a back issue of Vision, an on-line magazine about writing by writers.  Forward Motion  was founded by Holly Lisle and is owned and edited by Lazette Gifford, and has been since 2003.

11.  Maybe you write military fiction or fantasy.  Check out the many subtopics on this site.  I, Clausewitz : A Would-be Conqueror’s Diary
(archery, armybuilding, cavalry, costuming, economics, fantasy swords, gunpowder, military, naval, siege, single combat, strategy, swordsmanship, tactics)

12.  Are you building a new fantasy world?  Here’s some map making information:  Map Making for Fantasy

13.  Need a new language for your world? The Language Construction Kit

14.  Check out this short course on world-building and download a 30-day world-builders guide:  Magical World Builder’s Guide by Stephanie Cottrell Bryant

I know there are many more good research sites out there that I have not mentioned. What are your favorite sites?


About Sue

From the time, as a young girl, when Sue read the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, she was hooked on fantasy. She loves to read fiction and write within many genres, but she always winds up going back to fantasy. For years she has had fantasy stories spinning around in her head and now that she is retired from many years of teaching, she is putting those stories into book form. She has many interests, including quilting and playing the mountain dulcimer, but writing is the most satisfying of all. Sue lives in the great state of Maine with her husband of 38 years. She has been a factory worker, a waitress, a librarian, and a teacher. Her biggest job was being a mother and she has three grown children. Now that she is a grandmother, she is enjoying that role immensely.

Posted on February 13, 2012, in about writing, Authors - Sue Santore and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. wow, those links are really helpful.

  2. Wow! What a great resource. Thanks, Sue!

  3. Love, love, LOVE the Conqueror’s Diary link! What a kick, but you had to know there were people like that out there.

    For making maps, I have been and will remain a staunch advocate of Profantasy and Campaign Cartographer- INCREDIBLE software, hard for a guy like me to use well but even with my skill some decent product. And folks can check out my scribblings right here on the Maps page of the Compendium. I cannot say enough about how cool CC is to use, a great potential boost for any fantasy author to use.

  4. Those are great links!

    I second Will’s advocacy of Profantasy. I own Campaign Cartographer. It’s fun, easy to use, and the instruction manual is written very understandably.

  5. So, Will and Laura, is this software to buy or do you download it from the internet? Does it work on both Apple and PCs?

    • I bought my copy from a gaming store a few years ago for around $40 dollars or so. Prices may have changed and I think you can go to Profantasy and buy online. I haven’t been to the site for a while. They do have additional elements that users create and upload and these are free.

      I’m a computer techie, so my manual “readability” standards will reflect that. I’ve seen some doozies of manuals that look as if they were written to impress rather than to inform.

      The manual isn’t huge and doesn’t show you everything, but will give you enough to get you started. You get templates for various scales and some elements like trees and mountains.It’s a fun piece of software. I have CC, Dungeon Designer, and Dioramas. Dioramas is for building things in 3D. I fiddled with it a bit to make treasure chests that I can open and reuse.

      I’ve got a PC and I’m not sure if there is a Mac version.

  6. Sue, it costs money and I know it works for PC, would be surprised if it didn’t also work for Mac. I would say to Laura that it’s easy ENOUGH to use… to make a basic product as I do. But is is worded in a very technical way, and the elements of map drawing are given to you at their most basic level. I don’t know how one would make it more user-friendly, but you should be prepared for a technical-tone in the guide. Just draw with it and you will get results- you can always erase what you don’t like!
    And once you buy, you’re “in”- with a newsletter, access to updates, etc. They treat you right and the tech support is very good IMO.

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