In my fiction 101 class in college, my teacher gave me the best and worst piece of advice ever. Write what you know, he said. At first, this discouraged me. How in the world could I write a good story if I only stuck to what I knew? But then, I thought more and realized, if I didn't know it, well I was going to do research until I did. As it turns out, research is a HUGE part of life as an author. You must become a jack of all trades yet the master of none. I mean after all, how do you expect to keep your audience enthralled if you don't make what you are writing real?
So you need to start building your research library. Of course, a lot of resources are available on the web but sometimes you just need a book to flip through, bookmark, dog ear, or mark with a post-it for future reference. The first thing you need is a good dictionary and thesaurus. For this, you can make do with web-based ones. I personally use www.dictionary.com and www.thesaurus.com. Next, you'll want a book for style and grammar. The one that most publishers use is The Chicago Manual of Style.
Now on to the juicy stuff. The first book in your library, in my honest opinon is Goals, Motivation, and Conflict. I know what you're thinking. I've tried all of those writing books and none of it works for me. Well, I was in that group myself until I read this book. It asks questions that help you flesh out your characters, to make certain they are real and have depth. The examples are very good and use movies and books that we are all familiar with.
As I was browsing amazon looking for links to some of the books, I came across the Elements of Fiction Writing Series. From what I could tell this series of books looks promising. I'll be getting a few of them to add to my arsenal.
Next up, is a more specific series : The Howdunit Series This series deals mostly with mystery and police work. It has several books on crime scene investigation and other related topics. If you're going to be writing a story dealing with police, then you should check these out.
What if you want to set your story in Colonial America? Or maybe Britian in the Middle Ages? Instead of slogging through your history books, check out The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life. It covers those periods and many more.
Romance too needs is share of research materials. On Writing Romance is just one of the many available. If you want to dip your toes in the BDSM field, I highly recommend The Loving Dominant and Screw the Roses, Send Me The Thorns.
In addition to the above mentioned, the For Dummies Series, the Complete Idiot's Series, and The Everything Guide series all have books for writing. A quick search at Amazon or Barnes & Noble will provide a plethora of material. As for web-based resources, Ive already mentioned the dictionary and thesaurus, but Goggle and Wikipedia can provide good sources too. Just remember to check the sources, especially with Wikipedia.
The final thing I'll mention is that along with all these research books, reading other books in your genre of choice will also help you along the way. Well, that's it from me for now. Good luck, happy researching and happy writing!