January 21, 2011

fantasy research

I don’t know how or if the rest of you research things for your novel, but I probably spend a good third of the time spent writing a draft doing research. You may think that fiction doesn’t require much research, especially fantasy.

Non-fiction obviously calls for research in whatever topic the novel will cover. Some contemporary fiction necessitates research into current technologies, locations, etc. Historical fiction obviously requires research into time periods, historical technology, and notable figures. Science fiction may require in-depth study of a certain scientific principle or a projected technology.

Fantasy seems to be the one the genre that is free of constraints. Everything is made up, right? To an extent, but even the most bizarre fantasies have a grounding in reality. By taking the facts of reality and weaving them into a fantasy, you can make the world seem more real, even if the world you create could never actually exist.

For example, my novel takes place in an ancient, magical world that never existed in our reality. However, the main backdrop of the story takes place in a country very similar to India, and the culture and mythology reflects that of India. I’ve never been to India. I have had to do tons of research on India, including its culture, mythology, geography, and language. Was it all necessary? Not really. I could have probably gotten by with assumptions and half-assed research via the Wikipedia article on India.

I believe in world-building, in creating a world special and different when compared to everyday reality. For me, the life in India is special and different. Why not use it as the inspiration for a fictional world?

Now, research isn’t limited to the geographical backdrop of fantasy. Most fantasy mimics historical fiction with its lack of modern technology. One particular blog post recently got me thinking more about how the world worked differently in the past – “Money, Honey” by Jennifer Fitzgerald over at Let the Words Flow, addresses how currency worked centuries ago. 

Fantasy also has magic. Now you would think that magic is nigh impossible to research. Wrong. Now, obviously, you can create your own magic laws for your world, and everything will be hunky-dory, unless of course the evil forces have magic and the good forces don’t. Then everything is bad tacos. There are innumerable sources on magic and many different modes of casting. You can use these as inspiration for the magic in your world. Magic could be practiced through study, or it could be innate. A caster could have a daily limit of spells, or magic could flow through them infinitely. As innumerable as the sources, the combinations of different magicks are endless.

You can shun me for my go-to research sources, but I find them highly useful. Most of the information I find, I use for inspirational purposes, not word for word. These are my sources for all of my writing:

Rudiments of Runelore – Stephen Pollington
The Norse Myths – Kevin Crossley-Holland
The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference – Writer’s Digest Books
Treasury of Fairy Tales – Dorothea Goldenberg and Bette Killion
D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths – Ingri Mortenson and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire
A Practical Guide to Dragons – Wizards of the Coast
A Practical Guide to Dragon Magic – Wizards of the Coast

I have read all of these books at least once through, granted, some of them are for children. I’m interested to see if anyone else does research for their fiction, and if so, what books do you turn to?

Happy writing!


  1. I had something I was going to say, possibly about having rules for magic and Eragon or something, but then I LOLd when you referenced the D&D rulebook. And then I forgot. :P

  2. I use very similar resources for my writing, especially regarding magic and fairy tales. Another name source that I use is called Gary Gygax's Extraordinary Book of Names, published by Troll Lord Games. It doesn't give the meanings of names, but it provides an excellent view of how name trends differ from region to region. The book also gives guidelines on how to create your own fantastic names based on real-world equivalents. It's worth checking into.

  3. I'll look into it Katy, thanks!

  4. Wizardology is one of my go to books for fantasy writing too, as well as Dragonology, Working with Dragons and Monsterology (all from Candlewick Press) for when I'm researching mythological creatures. The Complete Book of Witches and Wizards by Tim Dedopulos is another handy reference.

  5. @Jo, I've been wanting to get the other Ology books, but I've been buying other things instead! I'll look up the other you mentioned too.

  6. I definitely do a lot of research for my fantasy novel, but I had never thought about looking at any of these books/sites. I'll do it now, for sure! Do you mind if I like to your post in my resources page on my blog? This is really great information.

    Also, "Then everything is bad tacos" made me laugh out loud.

  7. @Jess, I don't mind at all! I'm glad someone else likes the "bad tacos"... I use that phrase all the time. lol

  8. I definitely research! Mostly about settings, but also anything in my story that I don't really know about... one of these days, that is bound to mean "everything", when I run out of things I know about. :) Shouldn't take too long.

  9. (Let's try that post again...this time, with the correct spellings.)

    For me, it all depends on the project. For some stories, I do a crazy amount of research. For others, none at all. The approach depends entirely on the effect that I intend to achieve with the work.