Wednesday, August 7, 2013

It's Fantasy. Why Do I Need To Research?

Author Kat Heckenbach writes fantasy. Like much of science fiction, it involves making up worlds, along with the environment and the creatures that inhabit it. Some might think there is no research involved in writing fantasy. Kat relates her experience. -- Sandy


Kat: I will be the first to admit I’m not crazy about research. I joke that one reason I write fantasy is so I don’t have to research—I can just make everything up! But of course it’s not quite that simple. Getting to make things up doesn’t mean I don’t have to know how things work.

The story world in my YA fantasy series Toch Island Chronicles is full of mythical flora and fauna. I wanted those species of plants and animals to be realistic, if not real. That meant researching plants that do exist to learn what types live in what climates. I didn’t want my unique oak trees in an environment where no oaks of any kind would grow. I wanted fictional plants to have qualities that make sense when it comes to their real-world counterpoints, too. What plants are used for healing? What kind of defense mechanisms do they have?

I also researched animals that I could alter in order to make a mysterious species. Again, that meant learning about habits and habitats of real animals. The environments they live in, their diet, the predators they face. What ability does a particular animal have that could be enhanced and made into a supernatural power?

I also spent a lot of time reading other fantasy novels. When it comes to mythological creatures, this can be invaluable. It’s not just about the actual historical lore—it’s also about other authors’ takes on that lore. You need to know what readers expect when reading fantasy, and get an idea of what you ought to make your own and what you ought to keep more traditional. (Yes, reading novels can count as research!)

I have a background in science, so I chose to follow a more scientific system.  Sure, with that background I had to research a little less, but I still wanted to make certain I understood things like “lift” (the way air flows to hold up an airplane) to create a realistic way an object could be levitated. And I found myself learning about combustion and light waves, and double-checking those laws of thermodynamics.

Ironically, the most surprising part of my research had nothing to do with creating fictional creatures. I never would have thought that writing fantasy would lead to me researching ancient Arabian architecture and, well, sheep shearing.

So no matter how much I’d have liked to avoid it, research became part of the creation of my totally made-up story world anyway. Fantasy writing without research is…a fantasy.



What is the most unusual thing you've researched for your novel?



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Kat Heckenbach spent her childhood with pencil and sketchbook in hand, knowing she wanted to be an artist when she grew up—so naturally she graduated college with a degree in biology, went on to teach math, and now homeschools her two children while writing. Her fiction ranges from light-hearted fantasy to dark and disturbing, with multiple stories published online and in print. Her YA fantasy series includes Finding Angel and Seeing Unseen and is available in print and ebook. Enter her world at www.katheckenbach.com.

13 comments:

  1. Great post! I'm with you, Kat. Writing any genre of book without some level of research seems unrealistic to me as well. Sounds like I'd love your story world. :-)
    Thanks for sharing!

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  2. How cool that you use your interest in science to create your fantasy world! That's a great way to pull the reader into your story. I really admire sci-fi/fantasy authors. It's hard enough to keep all the details of a contemporary straight in my head, let alone all the facts of a whole new world!

    I guess the most unusual thing I did to research a book was to take a 12 week Citizens Academy at our local sheriff's department. The best class was a SRU (sort of like SWAT) class hostage demonstration. Very exciting!

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    1. Thanks, Angie. Sometimes it is hard to keep all the details straight :). But that's where keeping lots of notes comes in, lol.

      And that does sound like interesting research!

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  3. I'm encountering this in my novel now, although in my case the setting has a few centuries' load of alternate history to consider. I've had to do some due diligence to make sure the backstory/chronologies would make sense. It's a bit of a crapshoot since there could be many outcomes if one or a few things are altered.

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    1. Oh, alternate history fiction has got to be fascinating to do. Something I haven't had the nerve for yet :).

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  4. I'm always having to look things up. Desert Eagle or Glock? What sorts of things happen to a drug addict in withdrawal? Could you poison someone in water or would they taste it? How long would it take to fall to the center of the earth, given gravity and wind resistance? What months are monsoon season in Phoenix, AZ?

    Thank goodness for the Internet, where stranger minds than mine have already figured out these things.

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    1. Okay, Kessie, you piqued my curiosity at asking how long it would take to fall to the center of the earth. Until then, I thought you wrote mystery/suspense. :)

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    2. Kessie always comes up with the most interesting inquiries! :D

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    3. Sandra: According to the math I read, which accounted for gravity strength/acceleration but not wind resistance, it would take about 42 minutes to hit the core. This factored in to a climax I was writing. :-)

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  5. Thanks for sharing your experience, Kat. I never thought I'd like research, but in truth, I find it very interesting to glean little nuggets from history and the way people lived.

    Asking questions of some Confederate reenactors gave me a tidbit regarding the Whitworth rifle that I used in my WIP.

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    1. You're welcome, Sandra! And even though I still can't say I particularly enjoy research for research's sake, I can totally get caught up in discovering cool nuggets of info.

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