I write fantasy. So I can make most everything up? Right? Well, that's what I thought.
I've read a few posts on research for fantasy. And now that I think of it, I have done a little research for fantasy. Or attempted to anyways. Our library doesn't always have the best nonfiction selection. Or at least not fit to me. I only wish I could say I had the endurance to read a 400 page long, monotone nonfiction book on a single subject.
If I research in books, it's usually kids books. They have pictures (very helpful if you have to describe what something looks like). And they cover the important and interesting stuff, without yammering on about the dull details.
Of course, the internet is good too. For a quick small question. But it has it's inconsistencies and I really don't trust it as much as a book.
At Tales of Goldstone Wood, Anne Elisabeth is posting research tips as her Friday Tidbits. Last Friday, she posted about details.
- What do they eat? I had to conjure something up in my first draft the other day. Oddball and Rocky had dinner with some Vorbians. But Vorb is underground in a cavern. What are these people going to eat?? They do have access to the outside world (you didn't read that). But still. They ended up having a meal of transparent fish. The only reason I even found anything edible is because I've read up on and watched documentaries on caves and caverns (because I'm geeky and would dance at the chance to go spelunking or caving. . .). It was quite funny seeing them squirm while staring at their plates. :)
-What do they wear? It's a good cultural point. If they live outdoors as huntsman, they probably wear leather and fur. In which, Anne suggests you research tanning methods, at least some. I fall short at this. Most of the Postal Travelers are outfitted in plain old T-shirt and jeans. Though usually some have some kind of garment or accessory that defines their culture. But have I researched it? No, not really.
She also talked about hairstyles here. How that could define culture or personality. How it could show a rank or hierarchy. I read the beginning of one book in which knights-in-training had their hair cut on their first day. I kind of fall short here too.
- How do they get around? Transportation is pretty important. Anne made a point that if they get around by horseback, you need to have some understanding of horses and riding and tack (riding equipment). I've never thought of that. One, because I do have an understanding of that. And two, because in Oddball, people get around by their own two legs or flying creatures, like dragons or giant hawks. Aerodynamics, anyone?
The Penslayer added to the list in her post.
- Landscape. Where do the people live? How do people in that ecosystem live? How do they obtain food, shelter, clothing, warmth, etc. If they live a city, it's kind of obvious. But Oddball's homeland was a swampy/rainforest area. And I tried to research that, but came up dry.
- Religion. Every culture has a major religion. Large countries/cultures may have more than one. I've slacked off some on these too. I haven't actually gone out of my way to research it. But as I write the world creates itself. And some of the smaller people groups tend to have their own beliefs about life: their life purpose, their soul, legends, prophecies, etc. It's still pretty loose though. I'll try tightening it in the second draft.
- Language. She mostly talked about accents here. How different people talk. How someone from a mixed culture would talk. How people from different social classes would talk. Language is a lot of fun. I haven't actually researched anything. But it's fun to make up sayings or phrases that different cultures would use. Or even individuals. Hawk's Wing uses "besideways" for the word "besides." He and Rocky are from Echo Heights, these people live in the edge of a cliff. And they tend to use phrases or comparisons that involve heights, the sky, climbing, or flying.
Is their evening meal called supper or dinner? And their noon day meal? Some peoples insistence that the there's a difference between all the names tickles me. (Do you know what the noon day meal is in Nancy Drew?)
Now what is confusing is when Oddball comes across a kingdom that speaks a completely different language. For Oddball's world, there is a 'common language' that most every kingdom and people know. But every now and then they come across someone who doesn't speak it. Have I researched language that much? No. I wish I was as good as Tolkien. Normally I just write some jibberish, with either a funny or serious tone depending on what's supposed to be said. What I really should do is have a book with the words I make up, so there aren't any major inconsistencies. But I have yet to do that. . . I should probably research this more.
One thing I think is important to establish before research is how advanced a culture is. In Oddball there are many different kingdoms. Some are still in the dark ages, while others are almost up to our modern times. This can help determine what time periods to research. Maybe even some good historical fiction.
But one of the best ways to research, I think, is through other novels. Good novels that aren't afraid to add the details to make the world real, but aren't tangential and boring about it either. Fantasy, of course, if you're writing fantasy. But I'm sure historical fiction is great. And random niche books too. I had Oddball and Rocky climb through a mountain range. The only research material I found was too broad and over my head. But I just found a novel about a kid who climbs Mt. Everest. It's one thing to read about climbing tools and their uses, it's whole other thing to see a character in action with them.
What have you researched for your books? What have you found most helpful? Most difficult?