Every writer has his or her own toolkit–those resources that help keep him or her (relatively) sane and on the literary straight-and-narrow. These are some of mine.
Language Reference Tools
The two most important tools for any writer are a good dictionary and a style guide.
Oxford Dictionaries online ~ This is the online dictionary I use for my HP fanfic. You can select U.S. English or British & World English, and entries give U.S. and British variants, which is dead useful for this Yank.
Chicago Manual of Style ~ I’m a longtime user of the Chicago Manual of Style (ChiMan), and the online version has recently become my lifeline. If you always forget whether to use commas in a restrictive clause, ChiMan has your back. It focuses on American grammar and usage, but they generally note where British conventions differ from the American. The manual is geared toward academic and other non-fiction writing, but you can usually find answers to fiction-specific questions in the forums. You can also bookmark sections for quick reference and create your own style guide from sections of the manual. ChiMan online offers a 30-day trial; after that, it’s $35/year for an individual subscription.
English Style Guide ~ For anything not covered by ChiMan, I turn to this guide, published by the European Commission for use by its authors and translators. It gives conventions and usage for World English for lots of unusual situations, such as citing treaties, Romanising foreign alphabets . . . you know, the stuff that just doesn’t come up every day.
Sex-Lexis ~When I need help finding a particularly colourful term, I turn to this dictionary of sexual terms.
Online Etymology Dictionary ~ I hate anachronisms–especially when I commit them. To combat them, I sometimes turn to to this dictionary try to ensure the language my characters use is consistent with the time setting of the story.
Google Translate ~ When I need an incantation, I start with Google’s English-to-Latin translator to get an idea of the words I’m looking for.
English-to-Latin Word Search ~ This site, at Tufts University’s Perseus Project, has a much more robust (but somewhat complex) translator.
Econrad’s Latin Grammar ~ I use this site for information on those pesky verb conjugations and noun declensions.
Harry Potter Reference Tools
Potterwords ~ This site groups terms into helpful categories, such as spells, food and drink, and magical transportation.
Sycophant Hex’s canon list of words ~ This is an alphabetical listing of terms that also helpfully indicates where U.S. and U.K. editions differ and where the editors couldn’t make up their minds.
Harry Potter Wiki ~ This is a comprehensive wiki, but be aware that it includes as canon everything from the books, films, video games, and Pottermore and can be somewhat inconsistently referenced.
The HP Lexicon ~ This once-authoritative site is no longer being updated and isn’t complete through Deathly Hallows, but it is very useful for its categorical listings of Magical Beasts, Potions, Quidditch, and its timelines.
Wikipedia’s list of American terms not used in the UK ~ I use this to double-check for glaring Americanisms. It also has the reverse: a list of British words not used in the U.S.
Britpickery ~ This archive has an alphabetical index of somewhat eclectic topics related to British terms, usage, and culture.
USA vs. UK ~ This website has information on various categories, such as healthcare, clothing, and many other topics in which there is a linguistic or cultural difference.
The Britpicker’s Guide ~ This has relatively in-depth explanations of important cultural aspects of British life, such as “things Britons eat at breakfast” and “British townscapes.”
HP Britglish ~ If you can’t find the answer elsewhere, you can search the category tags or post a question on this site to get answers to Britpicky questions.
International Dialects of English Archive ~ I have a fondness for dialect and accent, and although I think it’s generally advisable to keep it to a minimum in dialogue, I find it helpful to know how a particular character would sound when he or she speaks. For that, I often turn to this archive, which houses recordings of a wide variety of accents and dialects.
First Foot Scottish Vernacular Dictionary ~ Since I write about McGonagall a lot, I often need reference materials related to all things Scottish. I use this site when I’m trying to add some “Scottish flavour” to dialogue.
Scots Online ~ has a fairly extensive reference on Scottish language, including:
CalendarHome.com ~ I’m a stickler about dates–as in, “did Christmas 1957 fall on a Wednesday?”–so I often use this site, which has yearly and monthly calendars for 10,000(!) years.
Hyperhistory.com ~ I use this site for its overview charts of historical eras, which can be customized to look at science, culture, religion, and politics.
For Epithalamium, I often turned to two WWII timelines:
I admit it: I’m pants at coming up with good names for original characters. So I cheat, using these websites:
Behind the Name ~ It has alphabetical listings of first names by country or ethnicity and their meanings.
Random Name Generator ~ Also at Behind the Name, this tool allows you to select from an wide range of ethnicities,as well as names from mythology and genres like “fairy” or “goth.”
Legion XXIV website ~ For those pseudo-classical names that pure-bloods seem to favour in the Potter books, I turn to this site and its list of Roman names and nomenclature.
Name Nerds Scottish Name Lists ~ I get ideas for Scottish names here.
Electric Scotland. ~ This site has information on clan names, both registered and unregistered.
Word 2007 ~ I compose in Word, and most of my notes, character lists, etc. are also in Word. I’ve created a custom dictionary including many “Potterwords,” which helps make spellcheck more useful, and I use a template header that includes things like the final word count, rating, author’s notes, and if it was written for a fest or to a prompt. I use the comments function while writing and editing to make notes on things I might want to check or change.
Windows Live Writer ~ I use the free Windows Live Writer to convert stories to html for uploading.
Notepad++ ~ I use this advanced (and free!) text editor for tweaking my html as needed (e.g., removing < p > tags for uploading to The Petulant Poetess or LiveJournal) and for writing CSS for this site.
ProWritingAid.Com ~ I upload chapters to this site to check for things like repeated words and phrases, sentence variation, and overused words.
Family Echo ~ When Epithalamium started getting long, and the cast kept growing, I began to use Family Echo’s free and simple online family-tree maker to keep track of everyone. The interface is extremely intuitive and user-friendly, and the visual layout is just what I need when I’m trying to visualise how character A might be related to character B.
Evernote ~ Research materials–web pages, images, etc.–go into Evernote. It’s free and awesome.