One reason I was attracted to writing fiction at a young age was actually a mistaken thought I had about the process. The first time I wrote a fiction story I asked the teacher if she meant that I could just “make stuff up”. She said yes. I took this to the extreme, as do many starting writers. I wrote stories about flying horses on planets with continents that spanned a mile or two. I invented random plants and ecosystems that made no sense and were heavy on macrobiology and very light in the real of plausibility. Consistency was right out as well. Magic is magic, right? It can be used to explain anything. In my early stories if someone could do magic, they were essentially a god. My characters might get captured or hurt, but like cheesy action movie heroes they sprang back instantly, the same as ever. I didn’t build worlds or characters back then so much as weave impossible tapestries without regard towards consistency or comprehensibility.
And at one point early on I swung the other way. It took a couple years but suddenly I was obsessed with reality in my stories. My daydreams and fantasies suffered from the same problems. I’d begin with childish fancies of flying horses and start thinking about how that would leave horse poop falling out of the sky and all kinds of implications of that. I’d wonder what the weather was like, wonder where the bathrooms were in these castles, even wonder why characters weren’t in school or why everyone was literate and spoke the same language. A myriad of issues arose. I was stuck, there were too many facets to realistic writing, or so I thought.
I’m not sure I’ve solved the problem. There is a large no man’s land that writers must inhabit between reality and fantastical impossibility. Fortunately, we have a large toolbox available. Plausibility is foremost. This isn’t the same thing as “good enough” but it’s something like that. My favorite tool though is research. Even when creating a character or a world from scratch, it isn’t really from scratch. I pull bits and parts and ideas from everywhere. This character rock-climbs, so I should look into that because there might be terminology or habits or physical characteristics that are important. This world has a lot of swamps, so I need to read about swamps. Or visit some swamps to get a truly hands on research perspective. These are just examples, but they illustrate my point which is that the closer you can relate something to what is recognizable and already plausible, the easier it is for the reader to continue with the story. It’s the theory of heating up the water slowly, so that by the time the readers are boiling alive they don’t mind the fireballs and flying ponies. The best writing makes you cozy and comfortable with its premises in stages, it takes you inside itself, wherever or whatever that might entail.
So I research. Which is fun, actually. I get to learn about things I might never have learned on my own and I get to read, something that is easy and enjoyable. Here’s a breakdown of what I’ve researched or am reading for each novel project:
Dangerous: Pretty much internet research for this one due to my time constraints. I read about cold fusion, titanium production, rice production, closed environments, high oxygen environments, guns, Roman government, viruses, biological warfare, and probably other topics I’ve since forgotton.
Chwedl: On the internet I’ve researched Welsh given names and literary traditions. Since I have a degree in Medieval Studies and studied a lot of Welsh lit, I don’t have to do much reading there. I am currently reading a book called “Medieval Wales” by David Walker, mostly for the place names, maps, and social structures. I plan to research clothing in dark ages Europe a bit more as well, probably using the internet and perhaps my college library. I’m putting a heavy fantasy slant on the novel, so I’m going to pick and choose what I like or don’t from the historical basis.
Predators (or Werewolves in Space as I jokingly call it): So far just reading a book about astrobiology called “Life Everywhere” by David Darling. It’s totally fascinating. I intend to read Wayne Douglas Barlowe’s works, of which I have two sitting on my living room floor waiting for perusal. I don’t have his book “Expedition” at the moment, which I really want. Hopefully it will materialize soon. I intend to read about a host of things, most of which I probably haven’t even realized I need to know. Sci/fi is like that for me: it’s a journey of discovery and I never know where my novel or short story will take me until I’m writing it.
So basically, those are my thoughts on research. For now.