The Road to Fantasy is Paved with Facts


(This is the first of four “themed” posts about research for fantasy novelists.)

I don’t really give “Writing Advice”.

Oh, sure – I have my opinions, and since I’ve managed to produce two novels and a memoir, I have just enough experience and success to think that, perhaps, I do know what I’m doing when I write.

At least, I know what works for me, and being older and crabbier than I was when the first novel got past the first draft, I occasionally do hop onto the soap-box and declaim about stuff writers might want to stop doing, because it’s annoying to read that shit.

But the one thing I have come to realize that what I do know something about is research.

(You would think that having an MA in archaeology from a highly renowned institution, and having some research published and used, I would have known this before, but it wasn’t until I got about a quarter of the way through my current magnum opus that I understood how incredibly transferable this skill set is, and how many otherwise very decent writers lack it.)

Now, my novels are fantasies.

Literally, I make them up.

But then again, I don’t.

No, the magic that I describe is not known to be in effect on this planet. The deities that are referenced have no singular counterpart in modern religions. The plots, or even the events themselves, are not lifted from European history or anywhere else that I’m aware of.

Those are all just whatever occurred to me at the time, and I am sure that a really anal-retentive reader could find the places where the thing that happened doesn’t exactly fit with its outcome, because real life is never so tidy or karmic.

But then, I’m not alone. That’s every work of fiction ever.

But what I do know is that I model the cultures and world I have created on those ancient worlds and cultures that I know about, because I spent a lot of years reading and researching them.

There’s a method to this madness, and here, as I reach the halfway point of the current novel, I find myself having to delve back into research, for those things I don’t know. And I have to tell you, it is really, really worth it.

Believability in fiction is crucial.

If your MC is climbing a mountain, you don’t want the reader (who may well have climbed a few mountains themselves) tossing your book aside in disgust because they know, three words in, that your description of the actions and emotions involved are completely inaccurate.

Believability in fiction is crucial.

It’s even more crucial in fantasy literature. If you want the reader to believe, if you want them to live inside the skin of your creation, you have to base it all on the most solid foundation you possibly can.

I am not going to be giving writing advice here. I write the way I write and you write the way you write, and readers, too, you all come with your own skills and history and internal ears. You know what you like and you are not wrong about that.

What I’m going to give you is research advice.

Because in this one thing, I can confidently say I know better than you do what you need.


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