Research When You’re Writing Fantasy

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A few months ago I  was talking to someone about writing. He asked what genre I wrote and I said “Fantasy.” He said “That’s nice. At least you don’t have to worry about research.” Well, that would be false. All writers are different of course, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but I definitely do research as a fantasy writer.

When I first started writing Beautiful, I was just throwing my imaginings on the page, and I hadn’t really done much research or preparation. But when I realized that I was writing a variant of Beauty and the Beast, I started to do some research. Specifically, I started with Google.  I think I literally looked up “beauty and the beast story variations” found some interesting articles. Some sites I found particularly helpful were Pook Press, Jenni of Shalott and SurLaLune Fairy Tales. I read up on some animal bridegroom tales from other cultures.  I wanted to see what themes emerged in common among these stories and where they differed. I also read a lot of existing retellings. I discuss some favorites and some observations in this post. I also read a lot of contemporary discussions on the story, including popular claims that it’s about Stockholm Syndrome (here’s my rebuttal if you’re interested) and I decided that I wanted to write something in which there weren’t any real captives. I also watched a lot of film versions of the story. For about a year I lived I Beauty and the Beast themed life, and I reflected a bit about the story and why it appealed to me. I wasn’t sure how much of this would end up making it into my book, but it was interesting food for thought.

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Another layer of research came as I was revising. I wanted the book to be set in a sort of generic “past” rather than a specific time and place.  But I still needed to look up things that the characters do. For example, in one scene, Finn, a wealthy, privileged character who has always had servants to do things for him, is on his own in the wilderness.  He must build a fire. In the first draft I brushed over this, because I was more interest in getting everything down. But as I revised I had to get more specific.  As far as I’m concerned, building a fire involves striking a match, so that took research. In another scene, the heroine, Eimear, is stung by a jellyfish. Fortunately, that’s never happened to me, so I needed to do research to find out what that looks and feels like, and how it’s treated. Google was again, helpful here. I have no idea how writers did research in the pre-Google days!

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Another element of research come in as I was building my fantasy world. The courts are based on a classification system derived from Scottish folklore. But within those environments I included other classifications from William Butler Yeats and Katherine Marie Briggs. I also included creatures from different folkloric traditions. One book that I used a lot was The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures, which is a general A-Z guide to creatures from different traditions and systems of mythology. Once I found things I wanted to include I took to the internet again for more research.

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The finished product. Buy it! Read it! Review it!

My research process for my second novel has been similar-ish with one major difference. The first time around there was a lot of “how to” research involving publishing, and a lot of trial and error. I’m hoping that this time around will involve a little less error!

6 thoughts on “Research When You’re Writing Fantasy

    • Thanks, I’m glad you liked it! I think a lot of people think that because you’re writing fantasy, anything goes. That’s true to an extent, but it still needs to make sense. People need to be able to relate to it in some way, otherwise it’s not interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

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