Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Role of Research in Fantasy Writing - Part 2

Part 2: The Role of Research in Fantasy Writing

Correct Spellings

This may seem like a no-brainer, but research includes checking the dictionary. Don’t rely on the spellcheck feature of your word processing software to catch every spelling mistake.

Search for Another Word

Redundancy is one pitfall writers strive to avoid. It requires research. Keep an updated Thesaurus handy, and don’t hesitate to use it.

Grammar and Style

Grammar and style are as important as correct spelling. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr is a valuable resource available online at no cost.


Why research experts? To add authenticity to your writing. An expert can sift through your scenario and tell you what works and what doesn’t and why. Talking with an expert provides minute details that pull the reader into the scene.


A writer’s research carries over from unearthing details that enrich writing projects to the search for markets where the submission process begins. What do publishers want, what do they pay? Once the manuscript is finished—where do you send it? Researching markets includes sifting through writer's guidelines to find a match for your genre and word count.


When writing fantasy with historical ties or even speculative fiction, researching genealogies can open the door for a plot connected to reality through family ties.


Building a world sometimes calls for supplies outside the realm of current knowledge and experience. Research encourages the collection of specific new information necessary to build upon the writer’s foundation of knowledge and experience. For instance, if you want to create a world connected by waterways rather than roads, a cursory study of Venice could spark the creation of a lagoon near the train station.

Here’s a tip taken from Pumping Your Musemap your world as it develops. Mapping provides logistical smoothness and continuity. It also offers a visual as the story takes shape. When your character heads down the road, you know where they’re going.


Government organization puts an authority structure in place even in a fictional world. It provides a sense of history to help understand how the world operates. Understanding how the government works aids to determine the character’s actions, consequences to those actons and the direction of the plot. Research real world governments to inspire your writing.

Historical Research

Even in a pre-modern fantasy world, writers research to learn historical details to weave unique threads into the story line.

For example, writing about a character’s wedding in a historical fantasy or even an alien union on another planet such as the case in the sequel I'm writing—researching medieval weddings provides rich customs and details far enough from today’s reality to inject foreign and yet familiar customs and cultures. Researching triggers new ideas as you alter history to fit your story. Historical or alternate history scenarios also develop from finding an obscure moment in history and developing it into a novel. Writing historical fiction takes plenty of research to keep the details genuine.

Religion and Myths

People once believed the world was flat. Creating a belief system that affects the actions of the general population, takes research. For example, if characters believe the world is flat-most of them will not venture out to sea in fear of falling over the edge into oblivion.

Historical superstition blended with a fantasy realm feeds the writer’s imagination. Why do characters believe the superstition? Is it because government uses it to control with fear or because of a faulty premise? Something like travelers who experienced a great water fall and perceived it to be the end of the world when they lost traveling companions in the roaring, fog-enshrouded mist? Fictional superstitions and traditions can be based on history but transformed. Use them as a springboard.

Science and Technology

In Sci-fi, science makes the magic work. Researching cutting edge technology inspires gadgets like the communicators in the original Star Trek series. Have you ever thought about how much those now archaic devices resemble today’s cell phones? Writers must grasp the science enough to not only make it work in their minds, but to make it believable in the minds of their readers. Understanding the science behind wormholes in space, the dangers presented when a star goes super nova, or any such space travel science provides the details necessary to express the urgency to flee and the knowledge of how to do it.

Science and technology mold the culture. If your fictional world is pre-modern, research will include primitive beliefs and lifestyles. In a futuristic world, research will lead to cutting edge technology to be blended with the what if factor.

Research: The Springboard

Research feeds the imagination. Writing fiction generates questions. Searching for answers opens avenues of thought that reflect new ideas within the plot and construction of the fictional world. Use this list as a roadmap to discovery. It is not all-inclusive, but works as a springboard in the writer’s research process. No matter the genre, real facts and details create rich dimension and a believable story.
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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, and if you want to buy her books in ebook form they are available at Fictionwise.


Shawn Michel de Montaigne said...

Excellent. Thank you.

I've got Strunk's book here at home, in hard-copy. It's been very helpful.

My best to you and this blog.


Donna Sundblad said...

Thank you Shawn Michel,

Appreciate you touching base here at Pumping Your Muse Fantasy Writer.

Check out the review of my latest book at:

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for a bunch of good tips. I look forward to reading more on the topic in the future. Keep up the good work! This blog is going to be great resource. Love reading it.
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