Research for a Fantasy Story

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?


Music Review – Buranovskie Babushki – Бурановские Бабушки

I love folk music, I love electronic dance music, and I love minority languages. So what could be better than a band that is all three of these things? For my first music review of 2013, I’ll be talking about Buranovskie Babushki, or “The Grannies of Buranovo.”

The eight ladies of the band are all grandmothers, and they hail from the tiny hamlet of Buranovo in Udmurtia, a region in central Russia. Most of their songs are in Udmurt, their local native language, which is actually more closely related to Finnish than it is to Russian.

They rose to international fame in 2010 and again in 2012 when they competed in the Eurovision Song Contest. In 2012, they won the Russian competition, and traveled all the way to Azerbaijan for the final international showdown of Eurovision.

They have two albums under their belts – a self-titled album, and a maxi-single of remixes of their 2012 Eurovision song. Their recent international popularity sometimes seems a sharp contrast to the Grannies’ simple home life and old fashioned values.

At home in Buranovo, they still farm, raise animals, and make clothing the way their ancestors did. They sing their own grandmothers’ traditional songs, and write new songs in the same style as those of old. And then they add a fast techno beat and other sounds of electronica music, and behold—a whole new world of music is born.

Their self-titled album “Buranovskie Babushki – Collection of Songs” is a patchwork quilt of the warbling traditional tunes of the Ural mountains, electronic beats worthy of any dance club DJ, and songs with riveting titles like “Long, long birch bark and how to make an ishon out of it.”

And then, just when you think you’re getting used to this idea of old-world Russian grannies mixing with post-modern techno, they toss in a few cover songs.

Their version of “Yesterday” by The Beatles captured my attention for more than one reason. First off, it’s not every day you hear a group of old ladies singing a Beatles’ song—a capella, no less. Secondly, they translated it into Udmurt. Just a little bit different from Paul McCartney’s original.

This slow haunting song of beautiful melancholy is preceded on the album by the dance song “FooDoora.” At first listen, you might not realize that the same group of ladies had produced both songs, they’re so different. “FooDoora” would be a favorite among any Tiësto-loving club-goer , and then “Yesterday” captures the beauty of the human voice and makes you want to cry, even if you don’t understand Udmurt.

The album opens with their 2012 Eurovision hit “Party for Everybody,” sung partially in English and partially in Udmurt. Ending the album is “Chastushki,” a toe-tapping folk song with a polka rhythm—and of course a nice underlying track of electronica.

If you like folk music, if you like techno, or if you like songs in Udmurt, I would recommend the Grannies of Buranovo. Even if you don’t like any of those things, they are still worth hearing, for their uniqueness if nothing else. How many grandmothers are willing to juggle a rural farm life with international concert touring? Buranovskie Babushki prove that anything is possible, and that you’re never too old to do something new.

The Grannies’ website:

“Party for Everybody” – 2012 Eurovision song