If there are two things you have learned about me from following this blog, it’s 1. I love mythology, and 2. I love researching mythology! It seems I am not alone; fellow author and blogger, Craig Boyack, has dropped by to tell us how mythology helped pave the way for grounding one of his recent novels, Cock of the South, which I recently reviewed on this blog, and which featured on The Friday Fiction. So without further ado, here’s Craig…
Ali asked me to visit today with the topic of researching a fantasy. Many people think there is no research involved in fantasy, and that authors make it all up. This isn’t true, and we must ground our readers in some kind of reality they can relate to. This is more than having air and gravity. Readers have expectations and it’s important to consider those.
The Cock of the South is a Dwarven fantasy. I’ve already made a promise to my readers that I must fulfill. It must have dwarves in it. Everyone knows dwarves are small, hairy, semi-grouchy miners of some kind. They’ve all read a book, or heard a fairy tale to cement that in place. Many of them watched some pretty popular films about dwarves recently.
This isn’t to say I can’t change things up, but somewhere along the line I need to fulfil this promise.
My Southern Dwarves are a conquered people at the beginning of the story. They’ve scattered to the four winds as refugees. I wanted to bring something new to the characters, so I placed them in an area with no valuable minerals at all. Mining was off-limits. This is where my research began in earnest. I wanted them to be characters of the Earth, but adapted to their environment. I made them into quarrymen, stone carvers, masons, glass blowers, and potters. This led to even more research into what kinds of stone they work with, what a pit kiln involves, etc.
I avoided putting them in the typical Scandinavian setting. Southern Dwarves, hmm? The Cock of the South is set in a Greco-Roman environment. Looks like my stone is going to be marble. I also made another promise to my readers. This setting comes with its own expectations.
The setting led to another round of research. I bought a copy of Bullfinch’s Mythology. I poured through reams of data about both Greek and Roman religion. I needed monsters too, and found a wealth of them. It would have been easy to let Gods and Goddesses take over the story, but they don’t. There were minotaurs and rustics that failed to make the cut. The story is full of cyclops, centaurs, and satyrs. I even wound up checking part of the Bible when researching the cockatrice.
I also twisted one of the oldest myths on its head. I needed to establish the dominant civilization in the area, and still have the freedom to change things. I decided that Remus killed Romulus, and Rome was never founded. Remus took its place, and while they are similar (they were brothers after all), I had the freedom to change weapons, tactics, trade routes, and more.
At this point, I’ve managed to ground almost everyone who reads this story. They have a reference point that allows them to move forward with the tale. It may be The Lord of the Rings for one reader, the Odyssey for someone else, and maybe even The Bible for another.
There was a huge amount of research that came after this. Grecian pottery, the Cambodian Plain of Jars, and the recipe for Dwarven sand. (Which probably landed me on some NSA watch-list. Don’t make this at home kids.) I even researched dwarf breeds of milk cows, but you’ll have to read the story to find out why.
I needed other humans around too, so I learned about the Paeonians, Goths, and slaves. When I used these characters, and the fantastic ones, they all needed to be distinctive. Each society demanded a period of research. The Internet became my best friend.
The promise of fantasy, the Greco-Roman setting, and Dwarves, are all fulfilled. There was still a ton of room to play and make things up as the tale came together. The research helped me build fences to focus my story on where it needed to go.
All stories require research of some kind. Medical thrillers, police procedurals, inter-racial romances, science fiction and all the rest need to be grounded in reality at some point. They also need to keep in mind the promises made on the cover and in the blurb.
I went down the rabbit hole again today with a paranormal tale I’m writing. The New Orleans cemeteries I want aren’t working out for me. They still might, but I have more research to do. Where has your research led you?
Craig’s other books
I was born in a town called Elko, Nevada. I like to tell everyone I was born in a small town in the 1940s. I’m not quite that old, but Elko has always been a little behind the times. This gives me a unique perspective of earlier times, and other ways of getting by. Some of this bleeds through into my fiction.
I moved to Idaho right after the turn of the century, and never looked back. My writing career was born here, with access to other writers and critique groups I jumped in with both feet.
I like to write about things that have something unusual. My works are in the realm of science fiction, paranormal, and fantasy. The goal is to entertain you for a few hours. I hope you enjoy the ride.