Researching fantasy

Samuel Johnson

I’ve have recently started research for my next manuscript, and it is on a topic which I know very little about. I have checked out books from multiple libraries and have raided the children’s sections, just in case there was something basic that should be general knowledge by my age. And all the while I have been reminded of the Samuel Johnson quote; ‘…a man will turn over half a library to make one book.’

This is the first time I have required a significant amount of research before writing any words. Up to now, I have written reality based fiction, generally set in Australia, and with characters that come from backgrounds which, while not always like mine, are backgrounds I can understand.

The experience has given me even more appreciation for the work of fantasy and sci-fi writers. While I have always admired the ability to create an entire world, with different rules, norms, laws etc. I naively assumed that all these elements would come to the author in the same way characters come to me; fully formed. Having to go through the creation process now, makes me want to go buy more fantasy books to tell the authors that their work is appreciated.

However, researching my historical fantasy is still only a light version of the genre. How do writers develop ideas like, ‘Wingardium Leviosa’, or ‘One Ring to rule them all’? Any fantasy or sci-fi writers out there, please let me in on your secrets.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Oooh, you’re entering my world Jenni! Hurray! For me, fantasy (well, all SFF really) starts from a premise of ‘what if’. What if wizards lived a secret parallel world alongside ours, with its own bureaucracy and schools and politics. What if mirrors were doors to those who could use them. What if there was a city run by horse people who had enslaved their human once-overlords. Whatever. Just an idea. Then followed by a lot of ‘so what?’ and ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions, which help you build your world and work out how things ended up that way, what it might mean for certain people or other groups, what would happen if something changed, who would want it to change, etc etc etc.

    There are some great non-fiction things to read which will give you ideas too – I like ‘Guns Germs and Steel’ in particular, for a look at the factors that influenced the development of technology in different societies and geographic locations, and discusses why some areas advanced where others didn’t, etc.

    If you want some recommended reading lists for fiction I’m also happy to oblige!

    1. jennicurry says:

      Thanks Sam, I’ll hold off on reading your recommendations until after I’ve read the 20 or so books currently on my shelf for this project. But you’re right on the money that it starts with questions. My idea started with a single image and from there I asked how it could have happened and what sort of people would be involved. It’s always so fun to stretch into something new and challenging.

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