When I get an idea for a constructed world, or “conworld”, it’s usually based on something I’ve read. That usually happens because I try to make as much of my “fun” non-fiction reading do double-time as research. Now, that’s easier than it sounds! I usually like reading the research I’m doing. For instance, I’m reading a book about Japanese history and culture during the Edo period called Edo Culture: Daily Life and Diversions in Urban Japan, 1600-1868 by Nishiyama Matsunosuke. I’ve also read similar books about China right before the Mongol invasion. And, don’t rule out kids books, either. They do a fairly good job of giving a snapshot of a society or time-period.
I didn’t always do research, though. I used to just write. (Some days, I think that way was better!) But, one day while talking to a friend who also wrote, he asked me how I did my research. Research? I write fantasy fiction, why would I do research? Well, that got me thinking about what I knew and didn’t know about the time-periods and places I wrote about. Suddenly, I realized that I didn’t know anywhere near enough about how culture and society works. So, I started to do research.
I try to take a page from Musashi’s A Book of Five Rings, though, and “Learn from one thing, five-thousand things”. For instance, when I read historical fiction, like Laura Joh Rowland’s books about Sano Ichiro, I learn about Edo-period Japan. And, I hardly even notice that I’m learning. Ms. Rowland has done a bunch of research for me and integrated it quite nicely into an engaging story. But, then, I’ll follow that up with my own research, like the book I mentioned in the opening of this blog entry.
I also try to research technology and science in general. And, I mean all science, too, not just chemistry and physics. Biology, in particular, is useful to me in creating fantasy worlds. If I want to build a better dragon, I need to know all about lizards of all kinds, not to mention general large-animal physiology and biomechanics. Also, if they’re going to fly, I need to understand the rudiments of aerodynamics. Really, the list goes on and on.
My point here is that research can be never ending, so the trick is to make it fun. Write about things that you wouldn’t mind doing research about. Find creative ways to teach yourself what you need to know. Never pass up a novel experience that might help your writing seem more real.
And, most of all, keep writing!