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On Research

I've heard it argued that fantasy doesn't require research, because you make everything up. To those who believe this, I ever-so-politely ask that you go spork yourselves.

The goblin books are less research-heavy than the princess book, but even so, I've had to research old recipes, building & construction techniques, military formations, weaponry, hawks, pottery, winter clothing, and a lot of other details I've probably already forgotten.

I spent most of my free time last night online, researching one historical battle after another and trying to figure out how Jig could possibly get out of his current situation. This isn't a case where goblin trickery will overpower a few hobgoblins. This is a big army of monsters that finds itself in a horrible strategic position. (The humans have the high ground, and anyone who's seen Revenge of the Sith knows how important that is.)

After going through probably six or seven battles, I finally put the patterns together enough to devise a strategy. I also developed a lot of respect for people who write war novels in general. An awful lot of research and work goes into the planning for any good battle scene. (Scott Oden had a few good posts on this recently.)

Life is so much easier when the characters line up to fight one at a time, rather than everyone leaping into battle all together...

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( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 27th, 2007 05:59 pm (UTC)
Hah, I've heard that old saw about fantasy not requiring research, too. I don't know who believes it. People who don't write fantasy, maybe. Or perhaps people who just don't write, period.
Feb. 27th, 2007 06:57 pm (UTC)
In part, I think it's because really good writing blends the research in so you don't necessarily notice it when you're reading.

Either that, or readers assume that the authors are all-knowing geniuses who remember everything we've ever heard or been taught. Man, that would be nice...
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 27th, 2007 06:56 pm (UTC)
It's another instance where skill makes it look easy, and you don't realize how hard it actually is until you try to do it yourself.

I've drawn so many sketches of this battle, trying to figure it out ... including one on my kids' Aquadoodle last night.
Feb. 27th, 2007 06:53 pm (UTC)
I spent most of my free time last night online, researching one historical battle after another

You too? I had to do that for "Kingspeaker." Only it took me a lot more than six or seven battles to find the ideas I needed. (Tricameron ended up being my inspiration.)
Feb. 27th, 2007 06:55 pm (UTC)
Fortunately, goblin tactics aren't as complex as most. Usually it's either "Charge in like idiots" or "Run away!" I'm quite pleased to have come up with a new strategy that combines the best of both :-)
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Feb. 27th, 2007 08:24 pm (UTC)
I should, but my brain's taunting me...
Feb. 27th, 2007 07:37 pm (UTC)
You mean, some people still belive that fantasy requires no research? Those poor, deluded souls. If you want something both plausible, and tangible, then you need details to write about (and I've actually seen the same problem with soem wanna-be SF authors too, though not lately, because I'm in the company of sane writers now, lol).
Feb. 27th, 2007 08:24 pm (UTC)
Pah. Everyone knows fantasy authors are all hacks, churning out one Tolkien clone after another. Either that, or they're just writing up their latest D&D game.

(Not that there's anything wrong with that ;-)
Feb. 27th, 2007 08:42 pm (UTC)
No way I'm doing either, which is probably what's taking so lnog to start writing (even if I already know, pretty much, what happens--I need the research for ideas on how to get it to paper or a data file). I've already had ot do some equine research, and also on at least the basic care and handling of swords. Heck, you can think fo life as research into interpersonal dynamics, if you're writing about it, no matter whether it's fiction or in your diary.

I think that's why Squirrelzilla threw me off. I know what caused it, and it screams for an environmental impact study, within the story. It might even call for its own book. The funny thing is, I don't want to jsut take it out, because it's an interesting point that can have a strong impact on all the plots, in the end, and not jsut for that one particular novel. I'm letting that sit while I go back further in the time line for a ghost story.

Yes, they're out of control! Well, almost. I think they're tiring out, now...
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 27th, 2007 09:19 pm (UTC)

::Stares at outline for Jig's big battle::

Well, crap. Now I've got to start all over! Thanks a lot, Aliette!
Feb. 28th, 2007 12:02 pm (UTC)
What did I do?
Feb. 28th, 2007 12:44 pm (UTC)
Apparently my smart-assiness didn't come through in the other comment.

The implication was supposed to be that I had finally figured out Jig's big battle, and that it involved a 24-hour gallop on horseback followed by a quick mug of hot chocolate before riding the chariots out to face the enemy cannons...

Sorry if my humor fell a bit flat. That happens from time to time. Very embarrassing.
Feb. 27th, 2007 11:21 pm (UTC)
Ha. I remember old 70s action movies where the bad guys line up one at a time to get their butt kicked.

Thank goodness, Jig doesn't have it this easy.

Feb. 28th, 2007 01:03 am (UTC)
It's a very common strategy in role playing games, too.

"Uh oh -- look at all of those bad guys."

"Quick, everyone back into the ruins so we can stand at the doorway and kill them individually as they come through. Yay, bottlenecks!"

And no, I've never made Jig's life easy :-)
Feb. 28th, 2007 05:11 am (UTC)
For the first Penguicon writer's workshop, Freon conned John Scalzi into reading through the entries and giving his opinion as a professional editor.

Thanks to a lack of research on my part, Scalzi was able to illustrate how getting a detail wrong can get your story rejected.

Did you know that our sun doesn't have enough mass to go nova? It will burn itself out, in its own fashion, but it won't nova. Also, Scalzi was an avid amateur astronomer as a child.

I can vouch for having wasting whole days in research, and having blown off the research for the sake of blasting through and getting the story written down.
Feb. 28th, 2007 12:41 pm (UTC)
That's a detail that would have slipped past me ... but that's why I'm not so much of an SF guy. Good to know, though.

I think with every detail, there will be one group who doesn't notice, another that doesn't care, and a third group that gets really annoyed with you for getting it wrong. Since we're never going to be perfect, the trick is to minimize that third group as much as possible.

On the other hand, if Lucas can get away with using "parsecs" as a unit of time... ;-)
Feb. 28th, 2007 06:25 pm (UTC)
the trick is to minimize that third group as much as possible.

And pray to ghod that neither the slush reader nor the editor is in that third group. ;)
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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