Yes, I’m writing a fantasy story and yes, I’m doing research. I believe that research to one degree or another is going to come into most any writing project, unless you’re writing a memoir or something that you’re truly an expert on. Roz Morris wrote a fantastic post about ways to do research for a novel, so I’m not going to try to duplicate what she wrote.
Even if you’re writing a realistic work of fiction, you might still need to a bit of research to add that extra touch of realism to something that you know nothing about. What if your main character owns several Great Danes, but you’ve never been near a dog bigger than a Chihuahua in your life? A little research—hands-on or otherwise—might be in order.
Obviously, historical fiction is the most research-heavy genre. Depending on your story and your intended audience, you don’t have to be a stickler for every detail, but general accuracy is good. For example, a historical fiction tale set in medieval London should not make mention of Queen Victoria. Unless you’re trying to weave in time-travel or some other fantastical element, this would be a glaring mistake.
I wrote a blog post a while back about world-building for fantasy and sci-fi, and the use of research. And so, in keeping with my own advice, I’m doing some research for my current fantasy trilogy. Here are three of the main subjects I’m researching:
Musical instruments—specifically, the traditional folk instruments of Finland and other Scandinavian regions. I’m not trying to be historically accurate, or even accurate with the details of instrument construction or use, because this is a fantasy world. The world is inspired by the mythology of Finland, however, and so I want the musical instruments—like the jouhikko, the kantele, and the mouth harp—to reflect this. YouTube has been my primary research tool—ancient Finnish folk music is alive and well today, and YouTube lets me both see and hear the instruments in action.
Reindeer—specifically, the reindeer and their herders in Finland. This has required the most research (since two of my main characters are reindeer herders from modern-day Finland). My main source of information has been internet searches, but I’ve read some books, too (both fiction and non-fiction) that involve reindeer and the Sami people.
Even when I deem my research complete and publish my stories, there will probably be inaccuracies. But since my intended audience is the average North American/Western European reader of fantasy adventure books, I’m not too concerned with every detail. I want enough of the setting/culture/details of the animals to be accurate enough to give the reader a flavor of this very real yet very foreign lifestyle.
Northern Lights—specifically, what aurora scientists right now are studying and how they’re doing it. Again, this is a research-intensive topic, and one where I will probably wind up with inaccuracies despite my best efforts. The internet has been my only source of information about this, with my main focus being the websites of universities that have aurora programs. My next step, if I feel I need more detailed information, would be to contact some of the people at these universities to ask specific questions. Again, though, like with the reindeer, I’m writing my stories for readers of fantasy—not aurora experts or astronomers. I want the reader to feel convinced, but if I get one little jot of technobabble wrong, I don’t consider that a big deal.
Any other writers of fantasy or sci-fi out there? What sort of research have you done for your stories?