Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Role of Research in Fantasy Writing - Part 1

By Donna Sundblad

Recently in an interview, I was asked what role research plays in my writing. No matter what genre you write, research is a necessary tool. I'm currently working on the sequel to Beyond the Fifth Gate, and it involves the mating practices of the bio-genetically created incectoid race known as the eofs who are part human. Research led me down the path of various insects to find the blend of details that works. That's the fun of writing fantasy. Details can blend to become something unique to the world you create.

The research doesn't end there. I can't say too much because I don't want to be a story spoiler for those who haven't finished reading Beyond the Fifth Gate. But here's the question I must ask. What makes the purple planet purple? You see, even though you want to throw out great ideas, there has to be a logical reason to support what you've created. Even if it is magic.

When to Research

When creating a new story or scene, if a question arises, make note of it and research the topic. Why? Because the same question may cross the reader’s mind, and secondly it puts the writer’s creative thoughts in order as the story continues to develop. Research can mold your story depending on what you find. In my novel Windwalker, researching how to make gunpowder influenced the plot of the story.

It doesn’t matter what genre you create; research is part of the process. The following categories include (but are not limited to) facts and information often researched by writers:

Period or Ethnic Names

Character names should fit the story’s time and place. Babynames.com is my favorite site to search for names and meanings. It’s easy to navigate and offers not only a selection of names but also information on origin and meaning. Other fun features include categories such as celebrity baby names, celebrity real names, Lord of the Ring Names, Shakespeare names, soap opera names, and even pet names.


Characters take on life. Part of that life includes a career. In Windwalker, Jalil’s father worked as a metal smith. Since I knew very little about blacksmith tools or skills, research added enough detail to make the reader’s time in the smith shop valid.

In Beyond the Fifth Gate my female protagonist had to learn to fight. More research. I found a great resource in Them's Fightin' Words by Teel James Glenn, and Elita learned to make moves I would never have dreamed of—at least not in any logical sequence.

Crime and Forensics

At the writing of this article, forensics plays a part in several popular TV shows. Some of the technology seems far-fetched but yet believable. Research forensic science and the equipment available to detectives. Small, obscure facts can present the clue that breaks the case even in fantasy. Research combined with imaginative characters and plot provides an unpredictable and entertaining read. For mystery and crime writers research makes and breaks the crime while weaving realistic threads throughout the plot leading to whodunit. Sites like Copnet.org link the police with the community and provide a wealth of information.

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Donna Sundblad resides in Georgia. Her published works include: Pumping Your Muse, a creative writing book, and two YA fantasy novels: Windwalker and Beyond the Fifth Gate. Visit her website www.theinkslinger.net, and if you want to buy her books in ebook form they are available at Fictionwise.

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