My most recent post, The Hard Truth About Writing Fiction, prompted many responses on various writing sites, including Disqus, where several writers commented that Fantasy Writing alleviates the need for research.
Below is a response that proved indicative of the basic premise that fantasy writing does not require research. This is just an excerpt—the comment in its entirety (along with others) can be found here.
“On doing research, if someone writes almost primarily in the Fantasy genre, and have created his or her own, special ‘universe’, what research would be necessary, other than on how to string words together effectively?”
Research is critical for all writers. Within each story (even when taking place in an imaginary world), the created world has a connection with ours, both in the character’s emotions and compared to mankind’s development.
A proposed fantasy story takes place during the Stone Age, and while the denizens in the world are gatherers and hunters, use clubs and bone tools, they create and wear jewelry made of colored glass; this is as silly as having these people using buttons on their clothes.
Within the context of development, this group of people did not possess the knowledge necessary to make glass, let alone the implements to make it possible. (The first glass objects were purportedly made in Mesopotamia about 3500 BC, some 2,000 years after the Stone Age—glass and the act of smelting did not coincide with the prehistoric era and separates the age of man from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age, which took thousands of years of transition).
Of course, the writer could choose to explain that primitive man discovered how to make and mold glass into jewelry, but unless the explanation is superbly portrayed (at the risk of losing the reader in an ocean of backfill), the reader would likely be left doubting the writer’s validity, and thus, the loss of trust.
How, the reader asks, would a people be able to accomplish something so complex and still have limited vocabulary, distanced thousands of years from the written word, and be oblivious to agriculture?
Most fantasies (sadly) take place during the Medieval Period, and also (sadly) conform to England of the time. Readers will forget and forgive the portrayal that everybody, even lowly farmers, had swords and only need visit their local blacksmith to get an armor breastplate, though this is blatantly not true. Ore used to make swords and armor was extremely rare and hard to come by—certainly not available to commoners—but movies and books continue to portray this myth.
Because the use of metal swords abounds in fiction (how exciting would a hero wielding a farmer’s hoe be?), we as readers forgive the nonsense. Yet, other developments are not so commonly accepted, and when stated causes an arched eyebrow and gives the reader one more reason to put the book back on the shelf.
Consistency reigns in instances of “period placement,” regardless of the story and world created. Just as a 1940’s based novel becomes ludicrous when the characters smoke filtered cigarettes, so also a Stone Age warrior wearing glass jewelry jerks the reader out of the story’s reality.
The last thing we writers want is to pull the reader from the illusion we create, and a little research will tell you that prehistoric man did not and could not create glass, and that it would be several millennia before discovering they needed buttons.
See You on the Next Page,
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