Writing Fantasy and Research

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.

Example:

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,

Rick

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Hard Facts About Fiction Writing

We fiction writers create because we must; to do otherwise causes many to feel unfulfilled, and in some cases, downright depressed. Such is the way of it.

When not creating characters and worlds, another part of the profession is research, whether it be learning about concepts necessary to the plot, how things work and function, or reading other writers in order to learn more about the craft.

Hard truths await the growing writer, and one of those uncomfortable realizations is how little fiction is bought and published; this fact translates into the daunting odds stacked against the new writer, especially budding novelists.

Being a realist, I understand the steep road we must journey to reach the mountain of success—success in this case defined as having our writing bought and published.

80% of all conventionally published books are non-fiction: news/current events, sports, memoirs, biographies and autobiographies, How-To and Self-help (perhaps the largest types of NF books), history, and all else deemed true.

Of the 20% of books published that are fiction, about half falls into the Romance genre. In her book, Characters, Emotions, and Viewpoints, Nancy Kress claims Romance accounts for 55% of all novels published, which leaves less than 10% for all other genres: mystery/thriller, Speculative (science fiction, fantasy, and horror), historical (historical romances are already accounted for within romance genre), western, and any other you can think of, including literary and mainstream.

The data is a bit sporadic and convoluted, but the best info I have found is that in the U.S., approximately 300,000 books are published annually, worldwide about 2 million.

An estimate of manuscripts received by agents and publishers easily ranges in the several million. Whew! A lot of competition out there and not much room to squeeze your completed novel past the slush pile. I am offering a distinction between novels produced by publishing houses and all else; the all else is not included in the numbers—the self-published (also known as Vanity Press) uploaded to Kindle or Amazon or any of the many venues available.

The debate of whether to self-publish will have to wait for another post.

What is a struggling writer to do? Write. Learn. Write more. After all, writing is what we must do to retain our sanity. Send stories into the world. Wait. Battle the gloom cast by rejections. Send the stories to others. Repeat.

There you have it: the reality of the new writer. There are no shortcuts unless you are lucky enough to have an uncle that is a writer (and you get along) who introduces you to a professional editor or agent who may be able to help you with your career. Most of us do not.

It is up to us to sit down every day and turn our imaginings into reality on the page. That is what we do, that is what we love, and most would have it no other way.

To increase the odds of success (ie., getting published) Writer’s Digest publishes several “market” books that are invaluable to all levels of writers. At the moment, WD is heavily discounting their 2016 “market” books and ebooks by up to 75%—a perfect time to add to your writing library. You can find them at Writer’s Digest.

See you on the next page,

Rick

A Note to my friends and followers: I will be on vacation over the next two weeks, and my plan is to unplug and disconnect during that time—I will, of course, have my pen and notepad with me so as not to miss any instants of inspiration. I will return in August. See you then.

I love comments, so please feel free to add your own thoughts to the posts at Knights of Writ. Be sure to share any post with fellow writers, and don’t forget to sign up to receive weekly posts in your in-box.