the good God is in the detail
When I tell people that I prefer to write fantasy, I'm always afraid they think I prefer fantasy because I'm lazy and don't want to do historical research. Yes, I'm lazy, but not too lazy to do research; and fantasy requires an equal amount of research in many though different ways. History is (usually) already set and done, and you have only to rediscover it: even though there is a lot to go back and uncover, it won't create anything new to upset you. Fantasy, on the other hand, in which you are literally creating everything as you go, is fraught with the danger of tangles in culture, setting, plot, and many aspects of life which are so essential as to be overlooked by us go unmentioned, being conspicuous in absentia.
Anne Elisabeth introduced this topic this morning in Research and the Fantasy Novel (part one). If you have read any of her novels, you know that she has a lot of ground to cover and a lot of inconsistencies to avoid. But on the plus side (I am discovering), writing multiple novels about a general place, time, and people group allows the writer plenty of opportunity to explore and create, and that's a lot of fun. Definitely worth it. She mentioned a few details to research such as what do the characters eat (what is available to their board, what dressings do they use, etc.), the ever important what do they wear (I have a deuce of a time envisioning clothing styles, so this is a kind of Achilles heel for me), hair-styles (a television show I watch had a character compelled to have her hair done up in a complicated style which was traditional for royalty in the new country she was ruling over), and also something so simple as how do the characters get about? There are a few other aspects of world-building and research which she mentioned, so feel pushed toward her post to read it! At the end, she asked
What are some basics you think would be helpful to research to create a realistic world?1. Landscape. I think once upon a time I mentioned this before. What does the land look like? Landscapes impact people groups to immeasurable degrees. Are they in a lush river-valley, prosperous, with good pastureland and crops? They are likely to be a peaceable folk. Do they live in empty steppe-lands, going from pasture to pasture, always on the move? They are likely to be a patient people, broad-minded, but also wary and defensive. The land matters. Pay attention to it.
2. Religion. I know I have mentioned this before. People don't always think about this much beyond cobbling together a rough pagan straw-man which will be quickly knocked down by an obviously superior Christian religion. But man is a spiritual creature, and while his culture and his place in the world has changed over the millennia, he has held tenaciously to religion. Whether right or wrong, it is undeniable that religion is very important to a people, and this, too, should not be overlooked.
3. Language. This is something I discovered with Adamantine and then Plenilune. Everyone has an accent: depending on where they come from and what social level they stand at, people talk differently. This is also a place for contradiction! Because of where I live and my upbringing, my accent can vary between Southern and Trans-Atlantic. Carrying this over into my writing, I may have a character like Eikin in Adamantine, whose people are admittedly barbaric: their language tends to be rough-and-ready, blunt and at the same to time the point, but they also couple that with an almost poetic arrangement of the words. Within Plenilune, the lords and land-owners use a clear, clipped style of speech, the lower tenant and peasant classes speak in an older, heavier form of Franco-English with thees and thous. At the same time, I've had a few lower-class characters who had made an effort to sharpen their speech, and some of the characters among the lords and land-owners pepper their speech with a "lower" form of language.
What kind of research have you done for your various projects?I think the most notable bit of detail I had to put into Adamantine (notable to myself, at least) was the post-rider. In a big ol' world covered over by a powerful empire, who delivers the mail? People have to get their Bi-Lo coupons, you know. So I had to think about it: you might have private messengers, you would have standard short-range mail-stations and local deliveries, and you would also have the military post-riders with specially designated mounts at the inns, making them capable of crossing the entire empire in the space of four days. I did neglect to look into the casualty statistics of people run down by post-riders every year...
You already know that Gingerune has required a lot of research. In fact, that process is on-going. I need to know something like, what are the common building-materials of an ordinary Theran house? I need to know something which might appear a little more obscure, such as what are the body-types of the people of these areas? I can spot the difference between a Theran and a Mycenaean face. Little things: little things matter.
Come upon any interesting little tidbits recently?Because of the location of Ethandune, I am making a synthesis of a Franco-English culture and a Persian-Arabian one. This leaves me with plenty of research to do (architecture, clothing-styles, language barriers, foods, the types of amenities available), but also the opportunity to make something fascinating out of two people groups. My most recent tidbit of research was milk baths, which sound scrumptious but also drying, as the lactic acid dissolves proteins while removing dead skin cells: be sure to use a good moisturizer afterward!
how about you? what have you researched?