Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Digging for Buried Treasure!

By Joe Moore

research Writing is hell. Rewriting is torture. Editing is tedious. So where's the fun in writing novels?


At least for me, that’s the fun part. Like digging for buried treasure, it's the excitement of uncovering those tidbits and morsels of fact that add seasoning and spice to the story. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a list of tricks and techniques to do my research. And I’ve placed the info in one location so you can use it, too. But before I reveal the location of the treasure, here’s a sampling of what you'll find.

How do you come up with names for your characters, especially the minor and walk-on characters? Pop in a DVD of any movie and skip to the credit roll. There’s hundreds of mix and match names to choose from. And if you need foreign names, just pick a movie that was shot in a particular country. Even the major Hollywood studies use local crews when they're on location and list their names in the credits.

Don't want to watch a movie? There's even fake name generators online.

How about background info on your characters? Easy. Just check the obituaries in a local or national paper. You’re sure to find biographies you can modify for your needs. There’s even a national obituary website where you can find thousands to review. And don’t forget searching the faculty bios at hundreds of colleges and universities for background info.

treasure-Island What about creating a sense of place? This one is really fun. Let’s say you need to describe a house where your character lives in a particular town. Start with one of the many a real estate websites. A quick search will show you what the houses look like in a particular neighborhood or area, many with virtual tours. Google maps gives you the names of the surrounding streets, highways and landmarks. And Google Earth shows you the surrounding territory in detail.

Your hero is in Mexico City reading the morning news. What’s the name of the leading Mexican newspaper? There are websites that list and monitor thousands of newspapers from around the world.

You need statistics? Visit the CIA World Factbook or the Bureau of Justice Statistics websites. Need info on the global terrorists attacks that happed this morning? How about military terms and technology? Or how stuff works? What about access to over 39,000 public record databases? Or finding out what time it is right now in Nigeria or Singapore? There are websites for these and so many more for writer’s research resources.

And the most intriguing treasure of all: The Hidden Web. It’s over 500 times larger than the Internet and hardly anyone knows about it or how to access it. Now you will.

As promised, here’s the location of my treasure trove, no digging needed. It's my present to all my writer friends. Enjoy!

Joe's Research Page


G.M. Malliet said...

Wow, thanks Joe! The hidden Internet stuff is fascinating--this is the first I'd heard of that.

I signed up for Congoo at

Mark Terry said...

Research can be like quicksand, though. Oh, hell, wasn't I supposed to be writing? I started out looking at a photograph of Chaco Canyon and pretty soon I'm reading Archaeology Magazine archives about digs in Turkey.

Bill Cameron said...

Am I a weirdo? I love the writing process itself, and I love revising. Of course, I love research too, but in the end, it's that sitting at the keyboard, figuring it all out, tuning the words and phrases, finding the story and tracing it through all the twists and turns, that brings me back.

This is some great stuff. I've used IMDB to find character names myself, and a bit of other items from your list. But there's so much to pore through here. Thanks!

Mark Combes said...

Jez, I think Joe was a black operative in a former life!

Me? Research for me is sitting on a beach with a margarita in my fist. Who needs the web when you have tequila....

Mark Terry said...

Remind me--next novel, adopt Mark Combes research methods.

Joe Moore said...

"Jez, I think Joe was a black operative in a former life!" You just blew my cover!

Nina Wright said...

Thanks for sharing the wealth, Joe.

I, too, love doing research! Grad school didn't help me get a job, but it did teach me that there are ways to find whatever information one needs. The key is asking the right questions.

Favorite sources for names: campaign posters, old cemeteries, interstate exit signs. I wrote down a goodie today while driving south on I-95: Sebastian Fellsmere. Coming soon to a Nina Wright novel.

Felicia Donovan said...

Joe, I had to laugh when I saw your reference to "Fake Name Generator." That has been traveling in the circles of law enforcement for the last few months with all kinds of cautions because of its potential to be used criminally. But don't worry, you're all safe. Just mention my name and that you know me...

Felicia Who???