Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Research for Writers Level Two: Websites

Today we have the second entry in our series on research for writing fiction. We'll be covering the internet.

The internet is a big place. There is no way we could cover it all. Instead we'll go through some specific examples of how to find what you're looking for, and cover some great resources that have worked for me, in very specific situations.

Yesterday we discussed Wikipedia, and it's a great starting point, but I strongly encourage you to dig deeper into the web to find the detailed information you are looking for. One way to get there, as we covered, is through the References and External links at the bottom of a Wikipedia article.

Another is a Google search. Or I suppose you could use Bing, but no matter how many annoying funny commercials they put out, Microsoft will never convince me that they're as cool as Google. Google is the best general search engine on the web, and is very good at narrowing results by searching for images, or news. You can also narrow you searches even further, but that's a whole separate post. You can see Google's basic search tips, here, or read some more advanced ones, at dumblittleman.com.

There are also some other basic alternative search engines, like Yahoo, Dogpile, Yippy, and one of my favorites, because it's so old: Metacrawler. I also like that it sounds like a Lovecraftian horror, but that's another post as well.

Then you have search engines that are intended for a specific use, and will only return specific results. IMDB is essentially an engine that searches only information in it's own database, which relates to the entertainment industry, and is an incredible wealth of knowledge regarding, films, television shows, actors, production crews, video games and fictional characters. Technorati is similar, but only searches blogs. USA.gov is for publicly searchable government records. There are several other examples, but I'm sure you're all familiar with them.

At this point is is difficult to get much more specific. After the basics everything is going to depend on what it is you're looking for, and how much information you need about it. Let's use some examples from my own novel, WARRIOR-MONKS.

The story is set, mostly, in the panhandle of Northern Idaho. For specific reasons that we won't get into here, nature plays an important role. I've been to the place I'm describing, so of course that helps (and is part of level four) but it's been years, and there is no way I could remember everything I saw there anyway. So I had to research the land, focusing on the flora and fauna. After extensive perusing of the internet, I found this website, the Idaho Native Plant Society. The wealth of information and depth of detail they have regarding the local flora is ... well, it's out of control. I'm sure there are many other great resources for this topic out there as well. For animals it's a bit tougher, but the University of Idaho Extension site has some good resources.

For one more quick specific example, something that features heavily in my book is the Japanese martial art Aikido. I have never studied it myself, except for reading about it extensively, so I had to research it. I won't go into every resource I looked at here today, but one thing that was of great use during fight scenes was the website Expert Village. As of the writing of this post Expert Village has apparently been acquired by ehow.com. There is also an Expert Village Youtube channel. Both of these sources can be used to find videos related to very specific topics. For example this basic wrist grab technique instructional video is very useful:


You can go much deeper and get far more specific than this simple example, trust me.

So that's it for today. One more real world example I want to give you about using the internet for research is just to point you to my friend Lydia Kang's post from yesterday. Her Medical Monday posts are always awesome, but yesterday's featured an excellent set of examples of the websites she used to find her information. You can read it here. Scroll to the bottom for her sources. Lydia is also a doctor, but it still helps to find more sources than your own knowledge.

37 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for sharing. That's awesome you found so much to make your story realistic. I'm just starting on using it for research.

And can you explain how you get your blog comments to come up in your e-mail so you can respond as a reply to it? FYI, I don't have the comments come to my e-mail.

D U Okonkwo said...

Yep, Google is Googletastic. I've gotten most out of it by simply typing questions in that I need the answer to.

In most cases you'll come across Answers and real life people who give an account of their real life experiences with something. It makes for great authenticity to your story.

Jessica Bell said...

Google is actually the first place I go when I need info. And most of the time I get a Wiki link to click on from my search :o) Great series, Matt!

Suzie F. said...

Do you remember living during the time period known as B.G.? (Before Google) I can't imagine life without it now.

Matthew Rush said...

I sure do Suzie, and it was a dark and dangerous time.

Stephanie M. Lorée said...

There's also a really great search engine specifically for writers that catalogs different advice articles and blog posts. It's designed by a fellow blogger, and Elizabeth didn't ask me to advertise for her or anything. I don't even think she knows me.

Check it out here: Writer's Knowledge Base

aspiring_x said...

for setting visuals i sometimes look over at deviantart and search by specific places. quite often there are many lovely photos there. :)

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

teh googs is my first stop when researching.

Bish Denham said...

This is great stuff Matt. And I'm looking forward to future posts!

I thought I was the only one who knew about H. P. Lovecraft...Loved The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. And many many moons ago I actually took Aikido for a short time. I still practice the wrist and hand holds on myself to keep my wrists flexible.

L.G.Smith said...

Don't know if you'll cover this, but I use Google maps A LOT. They have the coolest feature now. You can zoom in on a place and hit the video button, and all sorts of You Tube stuff specific to that location pops up. Helps if you can't physically get to a place you are writing about.

Matthew Rush said...

Test.

Jess said...

Your book sounds like such a fun one to research--being out in nature and kicking ass??? Hello, two of the great things about America--nothing I like better than a hike followed by a Rocky marathon :) Seriously though, the spirituality and martial arts parts in WARRIOR MONKS had to be incredibly interesting to do research on. And videos?? Videos??? You're a genius! I've got some animal action and international landscapes in a new MG adventure and I'm totally going to find videos to watch so I can write about them accurately. Thanks!

Jess said...

PS- Bing is annoying (at least to me). I agree--Google rocks!

Steve said...

I'm going to publish a competitor site to the Idaho Native Plant Society site, and see if I can outrank it on Google.

All my plants will be named after Stevie Wonder songs.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

I'm totally using that wrist-grab technique on everyone today.

Patti said...

I can't even remember what I did before google, or yeah, I went to the library. Google is much quicker.

Kristine Asselin said...

I googled "british slang" the other day and got some good stuff for a secondary character in my YA novel. LOVE google--what did writers do before? And belated Happy Blogoversary!

Sarah W said...

I had to delurk to thank you for this post.

I'm a librarian as well as a writer, and I can't stress how important it is for researchers to consider the source of their facts - perhaps especially online, where anyone can set up a site that reflects their own personal reality.

And I love Expert Village - one vid taught me how to break out of of plastic zip-strips. Very helpful, that. I mean, for my novel.

Old Kitty said...

Google is the tool of the devil.

LOL!!!!! I'm kidding, I'm kidding!! Use Google wisely and with intelligence. Ahem.

take care
x

Paul Joseph said...

Google has become one of those things in life I use every day. It is pretty much the only search engine I use, and I usually find exactly what I'm looking for.

Shari said...

So love Google! Great tips on researching the internet. Thanks! I'm using Aikido in a book, too. How cool is that?

maine character said...

Cool to see that Dogpile is still around. And thanks for the tips.

Grab my lapel. I dare ya.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Google is the best. Don't even want to think about the days before the internet and search engines and youtube and wow! I just can't believe the school is handing out netbooks now. Wish I could be a kid again just for that. :)

Charlie Pulsipher said...

I love google. Me and it just seem to think alike. I will get phone calls from my friends and wife when they can't find something on google. I give them a couple search words and it pops right up. Bing and the others just don't think like me.

Christina Lee said...

Oh yeah, GOOGLE all the way, seriously is best at narrwoing it all down for me--get frustrated with anything else.

Oh and don't get me started on how much we are on you tube. You can find anything flippin' thing on there! Seriously it's like a revolution of do it your selfers (and nerdy kids/adults).

Talli Roland said...

Thank you for another great post! Google and me are best buds - we spend hours together. HOURS! Maybe we need to break up.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I use the IMDB often!

Michael Offutt said...

I lived in Idaho all my life. I always thought of it as the place that someone walked through to get somewhere else. It never even occured to me that there are people out there moving to Idaho or much less, writing about it. Good luck with the panhandle. I went to school up there and loved stopping by to see the huge white pine tree that was a sapling when Columbus discovered America. Too bad it died :(

Jemi Fraser said...

I love Google! I use it all the time for research. I agree - it narrows down topics well for me. It's great when I can do a quick 5 minute time out from my drafting to answer my questions a lot of the time. Of course, there are many times when the research is more in depth, but it's a fabulous resource at all stages!

Cyndi Tefft said...

I can't imagine what a writer's life was like before the internet. Google, in particular, is such an incredible resource. I spent quite some time researching technique for sword fighting for a scene in my book. That would have taken me ages were it not for the miracle of online research.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Ye gods, how did people write/research before the internet? Also, I love TvTropes with a sickly passion that's more akin to addiction. ;)

Copyboy said...

I'll have to check her out. BTW...big fan of google. Love the trends.

Pam Torres said...

Thanks for all the info! I love google but I always love to hear how others utilize it and suggestions for sites great for resources! Thanks!

Slamdunk said...

Good post. I can't imagine life without google--I use it for everything to appear sort of intelligent.

Also, Lydia is the best.

Sarah said...

Agreed re: Lydia--her blog is pretty awesome. I use google constantly to start my research. I search anything and everything I don't feel like an expert on, and even some things I do. But when it came time to write a character who was an expert in krav maga--like you, I went to youtube and expert village and watched a lot of video so I could learn to describe the action.

M Pax said...

Google is the best. Since Bing got caught cheating [they were copying Google], their search stinks. I want overload when researching.

Carol Riggs said...

Heck, am I lazy?? All I do is use Google. ;o) Thanks for the post!