If you’ve ever watched Jeopardy! for any period of time, you might have noticed writers tend to do very well (along with lawyers, but that’s a different post). I don’t think that’s accidental. Writers tend to have a little bit of knowledge about a lot of things. They’re fantastic generalists.
Writers, in addition to being readers, must also be excellent researchers. Even in fantasy writing, research is crucial to world building. At the end of the day, we live in this world, in this reality, so to create a new world people can engage with, the world needs to be somewhat grounded in the reality that exists for us all.
Recently, I had a fascinating and somewhat mind bending conversation with my dad about the concept of time in the fantasy novel. To be fair, what he was describing lent itself more to the realm of science fiction than fantasy, but it was interesting all the same. Basically, he was saying that an interesting idea would be to write a novel with an entirely different conception of time. Time, he argued, is a human convention based on astronomy. It could therefore be changed. At this point, my eyes got that kind of glazed over look as I tried to wrap my mind around something I couldn’t quite perceive.
It’s akin to the idea that birds have four cone cells in their retinas, whereas we humans only have three. Birds can therefore see UV light. The most complex color vision system in the animal kingdom is found in stomatopods (for example, the mantis shrimp). These animals have 12 spectral receptor types, which means they see different colors than we do. Colors we aren’t even aware exist. Mind. Blown.
That kind of concept, however fascinating, would be difficult to world build with. It’s hard to create a picture in the reader’s head of something human beings literally cannot fathom. Therefore, most of the fantasy world building I do is grounded in reality, though tweaked. This, of course, requires a lot of research. Research into things I wouldn’t generally be interested in. For example, in the second book of the Changing Tides series, there are two scenes requiring lock picking. When I wrote the draft, I had no idea how to pick a lock. Now, I do. I also know about sable brushes for artists (the third book of the installation features a couple different artists and their mediums). I also know more about Victorian fashion than I ever thought I would. Catalina’s hats required over an hour of research. I know the skin of frogs is water permeable. I know arsenic isn’t the right poison for dermal absorption. I know how glass is made. I know the various kinds of medieval hunt and the basic principles of falconry. I know enough about architecture to make my high school humanities teacher proud. The list goes on and on and though most of this research will never appear full out in my novels, its presence lingers in them.
Most of my research happens via Google search. I search for a general concept, find something inspiring, then make it my own. The masks for the ball in The Wheel Mages, for example, came from Mardi Gras masks and were then reinvented by me. I even sketched them, though I’m a pretty terrible artist. Seeing these ideas outside of my own head is really important to me, because if I can’t pull them out, I know readers probably can’t, either.
I research as needed. I’ll be in the middle of writing a scene and think, “I really can’t see this, I should look it up” or, “I don’t know how this would even work, I better Google it.” Researching while in the middle of writing helps me organize my thoughts better and keeps me out of the rabbit hole that is the internet. I still fall down it, on occasion but if I have writing to return to, I pull myself back up easier.
While researching for The Wheel Mages, if I found something particularly interesting, I’d save it on my hard drive to refer back to later. Recently, however, I realized this was a pretty shoddy way of conducting business, especially when my manuscripts go through extensive redrafting months later. That dress I liked but not enough to save and now it’s six months later and I want to put it in the book but don’t remember the exact hue of blue on it? Lost to the rabbit hole. Hours could disappear while I tried to re-find it.
Why I didn’t remember there’s an application developed for this exact situation, I’m not sure. But last week, I remembered Pinterest.
Pinterest has revolutionized my research process. Now, I can “pin” images and websites for easy access later. Added bonus, for anyone who is curious about what comes next in the series or who might be interested to see what I’m working on, Pinterest leaves little clues in the form of pins. Want to know where The Blood Mage takes Alena? Pinterest has some insight. Want to know what I might be working on next? I have a whole board devoted to the first book of my new series (working title: Fire’s Princess). I have no idea why it took me so long to get on “board” (see what I did there?), but I’m so happy I have!
So… for those of you who are writing and therefore researching, my tip is to grab a Pinterest and maybe try out for Jeopardy!
Anyone else have any researching tips he/she would like to share? Add ’em to the comments!