As stated in a previous blog, I do very intensive research in my stories I have written. I recently wrote a fantasy novel which was set in the middle ages. My novel is a perfect example why research is very important.
Many writers will try to state that if you are writing fantasy, by definition, you are creating your own world. If this is true, why do research?
If you created a fantasy world, your created world is reality. The simple answer to my question about research, is sometimes we create people, and places in fantasy, but they are set in a real world, and in a physical reality.
As I stated earlier in a blog, my fantasy novel is set in mediaeval times. In my novel, I included vampires, werewolves and witches. Today, we have a different outlook on vampires, werewolves and witches then they did during the dark ages.
Today we have TV shows, and novels about vampires, werewolves and witches, which are more “enlightened” then the attitudes of the dark ages. As a result of these medieval attitudes, you would not be able to portray them the same as you do today. Imagine you went back in time, if you were talking to someone about a teen-age witch, who had a cat who could speak, they would not find this show humorous, and probably would burn you at the stake for speaking fondly of the show.
This is the way it is with writing, if you set your novel in a specific time, you need to reflect the attitude of your writing as they would be in that time period.
I know what some of you are saying; “My novel is set in the middle ages, and vampires, werewolves and witches are seen as malevolent and heroic.” This could be a great story, but it is not a story set in the middle ages; your novel is set in an alternative reality of the middle ages. The characters in your story could be malevolent and heroic, but the people around them will perceive them as evil, and your characters would have to hide, or they would be hunted down and killed.
This concept of reality writing also applies to the words you use. In a medieval story, I would state someone is sneaking up to someone without making a sound. I might say they “walked as softly as a cat staking a mouse…”. I should not say that, “They were as silent as a Stealth Bomber.” A medieval person could not be as silent as something that was not created until hundreds of years later. This is an extreme example, but you get my point.
I understand that our language changes over the years, and our use of this language in writing also changes, but we should at least try to make an effort to “be part” of the time frame we are writing in. If you do use a term of that era which is uncommon today, take a brief second and explain it in your novel. This is especially important if you use it many times, and it appears out of context, or you might think the reader might not understand its meaning.I also like to research technology used during the time frame I write about. We might think that medieval times were “barbaric” and technology were nonexistent; I did too. I was surprised about how people lived during the time, and also how far more advanced they were then what I thought. I discovered many medical technics, some of which were comparable to what is used today. If you discover one of these rare facts, try to see if you can incorporate it in your novel, (if it can fit into your story); share that knowledge with your user. However, put some of these facts into your story to expand the knowledge of the reader, or to enhance the plot line, not just to make yourself look smart.
With the Internet, researching has become so easy to do. I would recommend that you get numerous sources before you assume something is correct. Many times, rumors are posted online as fact, and they are nothing more than rumors. When you look up for information, use reliable sources. I often look up historians who are knowledgeable in one particular area. Let’s once more reference the werewolf in my novel. Today we think the only way to kill a werewolf is with silver, again this is wrong. Until the 1930s there had never been any reference to silver as the bane of the werewolf. Even after this time, it was not a popular concept until it was used in the1941 movie “The Wolf Man.”
Remember that researching is a way to enhance your reader’s experience. Your reader should be brought to the magical land you had created on paper, and the more you make that land real, the easier it is for you to transport them there.