Guest Post: The Importance of Research in Fantasy

Today’s guest is David Tufts, a former Army medic with a healthy appreciation for the craft of writing.

Here he details the importance of research in all forms of writing, focusing on Fantasy.

Take it away, David!

~~~~~

The importance of research when crafting a written work can never be understated. Research is vital when trying to produce a work be it fiction, or any other work. Since this group is focused on Fantasy fiction writing, I will focus this discussion on how research impacts the creation of a good piece of written Fantasy fiction.

Firstly, the setting of a story is large place, even if the story takes place in, and never leaves a single place, the detail of that one place can be a daunting task when one thinks about it. Research helps a writer deal with the level of detail necessary for any sort of writing task. Without a certain level of detail within a story, a writer can run the risk of losing the reader’s interest. Proper research on a subject can help prevent that loss of interest. I will use a common example of the importance of research. In the movie “Star Wars: A New Hope”, a mistake was made that could have been prevented if proper research was done. In the movie a measure of distance, a parsec, was used as reference of time to create the illusion of a fast ship. What this mistake serves to force the viewer out of the story, if this happens enough the viewer, or reader can lose interest in the story, subsequently the reader would put the story down, and move on to a different story. On the flip side of this the creators of the entire “Star Wars” series did extensive research into what makes a tragic hero. This research was important because it helped portray the main character of the series, namely Anakin Skywalker, and his rise and fall as a tragic hero figure. The research helped in portraying his character, as well as setting the stage around him. Consider how the movies would have turned out if the writers and creators of these series of movies had done a poor job in researching the different facets of these movies. I think that the movies would have turned out poorly, and would have not have made the impact they have otherwise.

How does this relate to the Fantasy genre? Consider one of the staples of the fantasy genre. Long has sword and sorcery been a part of the Fantasy genre. At some point in most Fantasy stories that involve the use of hand weapons, research must be done on the actual use of these weapons. One can’t just pick up a sword or an axe, and immediately be as good as Conan in their use. Most writers don’t have experience with physical combat, and the properties of the weapons that antagonists or protagonists are using. That is where research plays a vital role. Writers can create a vivid life and death fight between two opponents. What ruins a scene like this for the reader is the interjection of unrealistic aspects that could easily become a part of this fight. By doing proper research a writer could understand the ballet and rhythm that happens when melee battle takes place. Every weapon has it uses based on the reasons why that weapon was created. For example, an axe, as a weapon, was created for a different reason, and a different function in a fight, than say a war hammer. Research would help a writer understand the differences between each different type of weapon, and their uses. It would also allow the writer to understand the subtle differences that would be present when using the various types of weapons. This understanding would allow the writer to better craft a fight scene.

This is only a small portion of what research can do when writing the next great Fantasy novel. Look at the world of Middle-Earth. The works of J.R.R. Tolkien is a prime example of what is possible when proper research is done, even in regards to a work of Fantasy. Without plenty of research done the stories presented in the world of Middle-earth may not have stood the ravages of time as well as they have. There also would not be the level of spin-off work if research was done, and documented. J.R.R Tolkien, with his research, made it possible to have two fully functional languages that were completely made up languages. This could have only been done with comprehensive linguistical research. In addition to this, the modern remakes of Tolkien’s works into elaborate movies, would not have been possible if the research done by J.R.R. Tolkien was not available for the staff of the movies to use as resources when filming the movies.

My first wife worked as a Fantasy Romance writer full time. She had published multiple Romance novels under a pen name. Who she was, and what titles she wrote are not important to the discussion of the importance of research to a Fantasy work, but what is important is that all of her works we set in the same world of her creation. How she created this world, and the detail of her world, was by in large due to the research that she conducted while creating her world. She spent long hours researching articles in libraries, and eventually using the internet. When she started writing the internet was young, and the resources that are available now, were not available when she started her career. How she kept the details of her world consistent and as realistic as she could was possible with comprehensive research, and subsequent documentation of her world. When she died, one of the projects I worked on was the creation of a Fantasy Role Playing game based on the world that she created. That project was easier because she left detail notes on her world, and included all the research she had done that helped her create the setting of her Fantasy Romance stories. I have even toyed with the thought of finishing her last novel, which would normally be impossible, but I have her notes, research, and material that she had about the world she created, and her last incomplete novel.

One last point about the need to use research when writing is that research does not mean that only doing research in a library or on the web is the only good research. Research can be more than just a written work. Research can be consulting experts in fields that the writer may not have any experience in. I have been used as a resource when a fellow writer had questions about the Army. I spent many years in the Army as a combat medic. As a result, a fellow writer used me as a practical source when he was writing a military science fiction story. I in turn used a friend when creating an action sequence that involved martial arts. Research can include any source that helps the writer create a vivid scene within their work. So it is important to remember that research can encompass more than just the web of the library. The television series “Deadliest Warriors” is a prime example of multiple layers of research come together for a common goal. In these series of shows historical warriors were pitched in a head to head fight. Different sources were used, both historical, and actual weapons and fighting experts were used as sources. Without historical and practical sources an accurate depiction of the warriors used would not be possible, and the series would not be a realistic portrayal of how each warrior would stand up against another.

These are but a few reasons why research is important to just about any form of writing. A creative idea is very important. It serves as the inspiration that can set one down the path of great adventure, but a vision is only the beginning. If a writer spends the time, and adds research to their creation, then they add depth and color to their creation that will shine through and help the reader see a similar vision. Online generators may be able to provide guidance, but these generators are but a tool, and a poor tool at that. They will never replace a vision that a writer comes up with on his own, and the online tools will never replace the importance to conduct good research, and the integration of that research into the writer’s vision.

~~~~~

David has worked in the technical writing field while in the Army. 

He has also worked in the role playing community for a number of years as technical support. 

He has a couple of current writing projects in the works, and can be reached via gmail at the following address. jumpinjacksplat99@gmail.com

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