Fun fact: as well as writing, I draw a lot! I’ve been drawing for a long time, and the most important piece of advice every single artist ever will give you is ‘use references!’. 

Referencing doesn’t mean copying or tracing, it means if I’m drawing a person and can’t remember what arms look like, and even if I think I remember I probably don’t, I look it up! And you can tell by looking at my art which pieces were done with or without references, usually because muscles. 

Well, the same goes for writing! 

Not as extreme, you won’t need to find a reference for everything you write or every time, but thinking you can get through life and your writing career without the use of references is… well, insane! 

Especially because references for writing are everywhere, our writing is based off of all the books and media we’ve consumed up until this point in our life, it’s based on our experience, it’s based on how people talk to us. Nothing just comes out of thin air!

So, when do you reference? 

If you’re doing a book, I usually start referencing at about the third draft mark. This is the point where I really am polishing and touching up so it makes sense. 

How do I reference? 

There are two ways, go live it (which obviously isn’t always posible) or find somebody else who has! 

In my own book there’s a scene that takes place in a market, I was struggling with the right words to express the anxiety of being surrounded by people having all your senses working on overdrive. It was an important moment for one of my male-leads and it needed to be just perfect. So I put a pin in it, and next Sunday, when my local market was up, I went for a walk. 

I had my phone on me and took notes and went straight back to this pin when I got home! 

The result: 

Up to this point, Zack lived freely. The only thing to oppose his movement had been the wind and gravity itself. But here he was fighting against a current of living breathing beings none of which paid him a glance.

His hands found their way around Itazu’s arm, squeezing as though she was the only thing keeping him afloat in this raging river of unfamiliar faces.

Itazu felt grateful he didn’t have the same strength as her or Kai.

The market at its core was a collection of smells and sounds. Prices and sales shouted at high volumes, people trying to get their order heard over all the shouting, the ringing of bells to signify an order was ready for collection, the occasional sound of horseshoes hitting stone as the royal guards watched the chaos from above.

Let’s compare it with what I had before going off to find a reference: 

If Zack had found it busy in the station, it was nothing compared to the market. He could barely move and grabbed onto Itazu with all his strength, the girl was grateful he didn’t have the same strength as her or Kai because she found herself frowning as her wrist ached, but was unwilling to tell him to stop, understanding it was his first time out of that city in a long time.

The market was filled with different smells and sounds, shouting of prices, people trying to reach their destination, bells being rung to signify a ready order, occasionally the sound of horseshoes hitting stone as the royal guards kept a close eye on the street.

See an improvement? I hope so because otherwise I may just be a bit insane. But no worries either way. 

The second method like I said is to find someone else who’s lived it, this could be another book, a blog post, a YouTube video, or even a friend or family member! The point is if you aren’t sure about something you need to seek out more information. 

A lot of fantasy writers forget that they are not exempt from this. And it’s a shame because not only can it really show in your writing, but we live in the best day and age for research, there is so many resources online and we should be using them. 

Also, as an extra reminder: the type of writing you like may not be for everyone. I like things to be a specific pace, often not too descriptive. Someone else may prefer a lot of description or a faster pace. When getting critics or opinions try and differentiate between preferences and genuine improvements to be made. It can be very difficult and take a lot of time, but it’s important to keep in mind. 

Here are a couple of useful websites for ‘references’ I’ve found useful at different points: 

Descriptionari: Allows you to search for snipets of creative writing that could help inspire, I especially find this useful for things I haven’t and can’t experience or I have so much experience with I can’t figure out how to unfold into a pleasing sounding paragraph! 

Writers helping writers: blog articles similar to the one’s I do here but easy to search through and by a large variety of writers. Especially good for more abstract ideas like how to write emotions. 

Unsplash (or any site with lots of photos): perfect for when you need to do a description and just can’t remember what something looks like! Especially good for architecture and buildings from my experience.