First of all, for those of you who are new followers to the blog, I sincerely apologize for the delay between posts the past couple of weeks. Last Friday, as you know, was Christmas Eve, and I spent the day baking cookies instead of writing (a fair trade, I think), and today is New Year’s Eve… Today’s excuse: I’m working at full steam to finish the first half of my book. So please excuse the triteness of today’s post, and I’ll see you next week with a real status report and a more thoughtful blog post. Happy New Year!
I think every writer is a magpie. We like things that are interesting, shiny, or just unexpected.
To this end, I’ve done a lot of research for creating my pseudo-Victorian world. I don’t use everything I’ve learned–I’m not writing an historical fiction, after all. This is a fantasy, but real historical details will give it a touch of truth. Likewise, in a traditional fantasy, the details you make up will give the world and its occupants texture and life. Remember when the Lord of the Rings movies came out? There were all those making-of specials that showed how all the props were incredibly detailed, like the horse head on the nose-piece of Eomer’s helm. …Okay, maybe no one but me watched that stuff, let alone remembers it, but it’s there, and those details count toward the realism of the world.
Plus, you just learn cool stuff.
Details I’ve learned and used:
- On formal occasions, dukes wear/wore a circlet with eight gold strawberry leaves. The picture in my head is much prettier than the one on Wikipedia, so I co-opted this custom of British royalty for my own world.
- After Osiris’s death at the hands of Set, Isis found the scattered pieces of his body and resurrected him, making him Lord of the Dead and the Afterlife. This story became the basis for my world’s religion.
- Fashionable Victorian women might wear up to 37 pounds of clothing, and full-skirted dresses could require 25 yards of fabric. I take this one with a grain of salt, but have you seen some of these dresses?
- A gentleman never smokes in the presence of ladies.
- In the Victorian ‘flower language,’ the sweet briar-rose means, “I wound to heal.”
And that’s just a few. I won’t even go into the things I’ve learned and am saving for later or just sometime down the road.
Have you learned and used any random trivia? Or learned something and not used it, so that maybe I can co-opt it?
I spent hours looking up combustion engines, zeppelins, boat mechanics, and trying to understand basic flight principles for my story, fretting that I couldn’t make the airships in my book work correctly (think less blimp, more normal boats).
Then I thought about the basis of the setting itself (islands that float in the sky) and just said “Nevermind. It’s science. Airships = fixed.”
What I’m trying to say is that while research most definitely has a place in a well-written story, be sure that it’s necessary to explain something. I enjoy how Sanderson explains a good amount through subtlety without having an outright explanation of how the magic works, be it the Awakening from Warbreaker, or Allomancy in Mistborn.
The opposite end of the spectrum would probably be used in Snow Crash by Stephenson. The book itself is good, but I am still annoyed by the “Library” segments. Entire chapters of nothing but telling, not showing. While it helped get the point across, there was a lot of information delivered that didn’t add much to the plot. Ultimately, it explained everything, but it felt jarring to have this FULLSTOP LEARNING TIME every other chapter.
However, since your story is based on a specific era, I definitely support researching and borrowing from elements of the time. Just don’t go too overboard with the explanations of why things are a certain way, otherwise you’ve got the first few chapters of Fellowship of the Ring on your hands (Yes, Mr. Tolkien, I understand that these hobbits are different from these other hobbits because they live by the lake. I just don’t care). 🙂