OK, it’s time to conduct an inventory of your reference library to ensure that you have a comprehensive collection at hand. Dictionary? Check. Thesaurus? Mm-hmm. Compendium of famous quotations? Right. Visual dictionary? (Silence.)
You’re telling me you don’t have a visual dictionary?
Before you get too self-conscious, I’ll let you off the hook: You don’t have to own your own visual dictionary. But you should know where to find this type of resource, and three others, at your local library, or you simply must do some online research and see what electronic simulacra you can discover.
1. Visual Dictionaries
The four books listed here are all superior guides to the names of physical objects and their components. Does a scene in your novel require you to distinguish the parts of a plane? Do you need to know the difference in home construction between a rafter and a joist? What is the base of a horse’s neck called? A visual dictionary knows all:
- The Macmillan Visual Dictionary, Jean-Claude Corbeil
- Merriam-Webster’s Visual Dictionary, Merriam-Webster
- What’s What: A Visual Glossary of the Physical World, Reginald Bragonier Jr.
- Ultimate Visual Dictionary, DK Publishing
2. Guides to Symbolism
These five volumes, and others, will enlighten you about the religious, mythological, and folkloric significance of symbols. Perhaps you want to strew visual metaphors throughout your novel. Or you want to avoid cliched occult symbols in your supernatural thriller, and want to find something unusual. Or you want to make sure your medieval mystery accurately describes a cross without anachronistic errors. Follow the signs to these sources about symbology:
- An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, by J. C. Cooper
- Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meanings Behind Them, Hans Biedermann
- 1,001 Symbols: An Illustrated Guide to Imagery and Its Meaning, Jack Tresidder
- The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier
- Reverse Symbolism Dictionary: Symbols Listed by Subject, Steven Olderr
3. Guides to Hierarchies
Do you know the order of succession among Cabinet officials in the United States in case the president, vice president, and Speaker of the House are all incapacitated? Is a battalion bigger, or smaller, than a regiment? What’s higher up the taxonomic scale — a phylum, or a family? The Order of Things: How Everything in the World Is Organized into Hierarchies, Structures, and Pecking Orders, Barbara Ann Kipfer, will set you straight.
4. Reverse Dictionaries
Flip Dictionary, Barbara Ann Kipfer, is the best of the class of reference books known as reverse dictionaries, for when you know how to describe something but can’t think of the word. One of the qualities that set it apart is the numerous charts and tables that group things by subject. The Describer’s Dictionary: A Treasury of Terms & Literary Quotations, David Grambs, is a similar work that’ll help you transfer a word from the tip of your tongue to paper or the computer screen.