What is the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the word “research?”
“I thought I left that all behind when I graduated.”
“Do I have to?”
There are a few anomalous individuals who relish the thought of research, but, let’s face it, most of us don’t enjoy it. For me, it depends on what I’m researching. If it’s about weapons or animals I’m usually very interested and enthusiastic, but many other subjects seem like a tedious way to spend my afternoon.
Some of you might be wondering, “Why do you have to do research, Kat? You write fantasy! You just make everything up! That doesn’t require research.”
Any kind of writing requires research, even if it’s a topic you know a lot about. And for something as complex as an entire world, you have do do a lot of research to make sure your world works. Even a fantasy realm has to be rooted in fact, as oxymoronic as that might sound. Why? Because your readers will know when you’re trying to pull the wool over their eyes or if you just didn’t care enough to do your research. And if you don’t care enough, then why should they care about your characters or story at all? Readers might not be consciously aware of it (although the worse the writing, the more obvious it is), but something will feel off about your world, leading to the inevitable and reality-destroying question: “Well, why don’t they just…?”
If your readers ever ask that question and don’t get a logical answer, that’s a sign that your credibility as a creator is in jeopardy. Things have to make sense or the illusion of reality you’re trying to create is shattered.
This is especially true if you have magic, alien creatures, or new technology present. These creations may be unique to your story, but you have to make sure that magic and monsters behave in a logical fashion and that any technology created is useful to the populace of your story and is made of materials and in fashion consistent with the established level of technology. I don’t understand technology, mechanics, or physics very well, so my stories tend to be set in rural, low-tech, feudal/medieval-style societies. I will play around with traditional fantasy creatures because of their precedent in fantasy literature and my own interest in animal biology, but I rarely create an entirely new species because I’m simply not that well-versed in it. But any tech in my stories tends to be either muscle powered or fueled by spells, although that means that my magic systems need to be in perfect working order. Magic can take the place of electricity to a degree, but beware of having magic solve all of society’s problems. Magic is a tool and resource like any other and has a limit to its useful applications.
If there are elements, plot twists, creatures, or technology that you want to incorporate into your story, but it isn’t working right or you know that you don’t know enough about it, please research it! That is why we have libraries and the internet. There are also plenty of experts on various subjects that could be of interest to you. Talk to them. Or take classes. Don’t know how to sword fight or ride a horse? Take lessons! Or closely observe those who do. There are myriad ways to learn and you should take advantage of them. Not only will it make your stories more realistic, but it will enrich your own life as well. Every personal experience contains a wealth of information that could be useful in making your world come to life. Use that. Take advantage of each opportunity. And research, research, research!
One thought on “Revels in Research”
A few years ago I started a list of all the things I'd need to research in order to write MisPan (my series) well. …I am still compiling that list.