But Joe, lizards don’t have lips.
I know! That’s what makes these books so AWESOME. They instantly make lizards have lips, when lizards..read them..or…it’s a surreal expression, ok? The books just rock!
These are three books that I use and have used to farm, develop, discover and embellish stories and ideas. They are wonderfully imaginative and useful tomes and I wanted to share them with you. So, here they are, in reverse chronological order of the time they entered my life:
This may be the most diverse, most surprising “reference” book I have ever opened. Every page is packed with stories waiting to be told. People, places, occurrences, expressions, items, myths, folklore, tradition, all manner of wonderful information. There are stories waiting on every page. Let’s say you want to write a short story and need an idea spark. Just flip open to a random page and stab your finger down:
Hellfire Club – “Originally, a club founded in Dublin in 1735 to facilitate its members’ indulgence in drink, debauchery and diabolism. Although they mostly met at the Eagle Tavern, where they would down large quantities of scultheen (a mixture of whiskey and butter), in the…..said to involve the sacrifice of cats and at least one Dwarf…….There is a story that…..”
Mirza – “(Persian, ‘son of a lord’) When fixed to a surname it is a title of honor, but when annexed to the surname it means a prince of the blood royal”
Violet, on the tyrant’s grave, The – Ok, that just sounds like a cool story title (“Violet on the tyrant’s grave) “The reference from Tennyson’s “Aylmer’s Field’ (1864) is to Nero. It is said that some unknown hand went by night and strewed violets over his grave. At his death his statues are said to have been ‘crowned with garlands of flowers’
So, you get the idea. All kinds of cool things to add into a story, or base a story around. Obscure facts and paths that maybe you would never think to look up or research. It’s all here, at your fingertips, in one huge book. Yes, there is a unicorn on the front. And yes, said unicorn has perhaps the biggest horn I have ever seen on a unicorn. But that’s good, that’s ok. That’s a unicorn with confidence. That’s a unicorn that says “This book is so invaluable that if you do not buy it and use it, I will spear you through the midsection with my vorpal horn of DOOM!” There is an 18th edition available now, but I have the unicorn and the unicorn threatened my life if I did not report on its edition.
So, what are you waiting for? The mass clicking of book buying fingers should ring across the internet right now. You’ll thank me. Really, you will. And you won’t be gored by an angry unicorn. So, you have that going for you.
2. Encyclopedia of Spirits (the ultimate guide to the magic of faeries, genies, demons, ghosts, gods & goddesses) Wow that was a long title to type. [Judika Illes, HarperOne: New York, 2009. ISBN 9780061350245 1,056 pages. Hardcover]
This book is filled with characters and their stories I have never heard of, but also with fresh material on those I am familiar with. The encyclopedia crosses cultures, geography and time, presenting a very expansive collection. I have found myself just reading it for entertainment, let alone for story material. Within this book, you can discover character traits, plot lines, entire story arcs and interesting morsels to drizzle across your story like chocolate sauce on ice cream.
The book is laid out in a very “user-friendly” format. Entries are extensive, ranging from a quarter page to two or more pages. There are interesting pop out quotes and sidebars as well as an entire opening chapter on general questions and answers, like mirror travel, runes and spirit/dream communication. It all makes for very cool story material. I believe that having this book on your shelf might make you dance like a Tündér (Hungarian. Charming, beautiful and benevolent Fairies that are incredibly wealthy and live on remote mountaintops in fabulous castles, surrounded by beautiful gardens. Want to know more? Read p. 974). Without this book, you might be ill prepared for the wild rumpus of the Kallikantzari. Nobody wants to be unprepared for the wild rumpus of the Kallikantzari. I will tell you this: have a fire ready and you’ll know their leader by the rooster he rides.
3. Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus (Compiled by Christine A. Lindberg, Oxford: New York, 2004. ISBN 1,088 pages. Hardcover] Ok, ok, I know what you might be saying. Yes, there are a ton of free online thesauruses and most computer programs have them, but this is different. Not only does this offer the gamut of lexicon gold, it includes all kinds of word banks and tables designed with writers in mind. There are word notes and pop outs on the right contextual word choice for certain word selections. There are word trees demonstrating cycles of synonyms to antonyms. Directives toward more literary appropriate synonyms and formal vs. informal choices. Entire specific examples of things like coffee types and constellations, of house types and horse breeds. This is more than just a collection of alternate word selections. This is developed for the wordsmith. It contains language guides and grammar brush ups, proofreader’s marking notations and writing prompts. The usage notes and contextual examples offer great insight into the building blocks of our sentence composition. I give this three thumbs up! What? Yeah, I borrowed a hand for a minute.
So, check these out. They’re great references and help to keep the imagination mill grinding out stories. If nothing else, you’ll have huge muscles from lugging around over 3,000 pages or you’ll be able to aptly describe the Mackinaw blanket Tellus Máter performed a Sellinger’s round upon.
Hope you find them as resourceful as I did! And hey, if you pick up one of these books and put it to use, drop a comment here and let us know where it led you!! Happy writing!