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20 | The top 5 resources I use in writing SF/F novels

(Plus a few more!)

An Asian woman with short hair looks up at the light through a green piece of glass in their hand.

Hi everyone,

In writing The Quiet is Loud, Seeker of the Lost Song, and two other works-in-progress, I've noticed a few resources I return to often. These resources might be useful for other sci-fi/fantasy authors, so I thought I'd share them. Let me know if there are any that you use that aren't on this list!

1) Wiktionary

Because so many of the names (both for people and places) I use in my work are based on real languages, Wiktionary is probably my favourite resource. It offers translations of words as well as their etymologies. Sometimes I just use the real Proto-Finnic or Proto-Philippine word, for example, but other times I tweak that word a little bit so it sounds more natural with the other names or words in my world. Pro tip: Wiktionary is also a great place to check if an invented name has a different (and maybe unwanted) meaning in a real-world language.

2) The AskHistorians subreddit

I know, I know, but not all of Reddit is a cesspool, I promise. I like AskHistorians because they insist on answers being given by people who have done extensive research of their own, using good-quality sources. As a result, the answers are very in-depth and quite accurate. I've been sent down some very interesting research rabbitholes from this subreddit.

3) Inkarnate

What's better in SF/F than a good map? NOTHING. I need to easily visualize my worlds, so when I start a project I create a map on Inkarnate. The free version is quite basic but honestly it's good enough for what I need. I can create and refine landmasses, add lakes, rivers, and mountains, add towns, and label things. It's not the same quality of the maps you'd find in your favourite sci-fi/fantasy novel, but it's perfect to get things oriented properly in my mind.

4) Stock photo websites for character description

Much like maps, I need reference photos of my characters as close to the start of a project as possible. I don't always stick very strictly to these photos and sometimes I update them later, but they help me a lot initially. I like to use stock photos because their models often look more like regular people than celebrities or other models do. My favourite free stock photo sites are Pexels and Unsplash, but honestly sometimes a watermarked preview photo from a not-free stock photo site has been perfect for what I need.

5) Fantasy Name Generators

When I don't want to use a modern-day name or a historical name, Fantasy Name Generators is great. There are lots of categories, from fantasy & folklore names to places & locations to pop culture. Each category has a staggering amount of options - to name just a fraction: Dragon Age names, druid names, fantasy creature names, mountain range names, plague names, even manananggal names. I often turn to Lord of the Rings-inspired names (and given that Tolkien was inspired by real languages too, it's fitting).

Bonus resources!

The five sci-fi/fantasy worldbuilding and research resources above are the main ones I use, but there are a few that are either specific to certain projects, or things that are just fun little accompaniments to the writing process. They are:

  • D&D alignment test: I don’t stick to this super faithfully, but for some characters I like to figure out their Dungeons & Dragons alignment. It helps me understand their motivations.

  • Pinterest: I like to create a little moodboard for myself as I start a project, when I’m still gathering vibes, setting, and major themes.

  • Nordic Names: A great resource for both modern and historical names from Nordic countries. I’ve used this for most of my writing projects so far, and it was especially useful for Seeker with its medieval-Finland-inspired setting.

  • YouTube: I’ve spent probably hours watching videos on things like medieval pottery, medieval Finnish saunas, pre-colonial Filipino balangay ships, and Filipino rice wine. Some of this makes it into a book for only a paragraph, but oh well!

  • Obsidian & Excel: My husband suggested Obsidian as a way to create a sort of wiki for myself to organize all my various worldbuilding components, and link documents to other documents. I still have yet to fully do this, but so far it’s been fun! I also use a lot of Excel spreadsheets to keep track of things like population growth and planetary characteristics, so I really should just dump this all into Obsidian too.

  • The r/worldbuilding subreddit: This is another subreddit where I've gotten valuable inspiration for—surprising nobody—worldbuilding. Whether it’s writers discussing how people on their tidally-locked planets keep time, or how far people on horseback can travel in seven hours, it’s helped so much.

PS, what I’m reading:

I’ve really needed cozy comfort reads lately, and so I’ve been rereading a couple of my favourite Susanna Kearsley books: The Winter Sea and The Shadowy Horses. I love Kearsley’s historical focus, and both of these books make me feel like I’m burrowing in a soft blanket of long-ago lives and stories. I actually wrote a bit about my love of The Winter Sea over at Open Book: Get Cozy with Open Book: The Open Book Team on Our All-Time Coziest Reads.

Talk soon,

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