Researching a Fantasy Story, and How Mythology Helps by Guest Author Craig Boyack


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

Boyack photo (2)

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.

Follow Craig’s blog      Check out Craig’s novels      Tweet to Craig onTwitter       Craig on Goodreads

37 Comments on “Researching a Fantasy Story, and How Mythology Helps by Guest Author Craig Boyack

  1. Hello Ali! Craig Boyack is an excellent guest blogger. It’s true too many people think there is little to no research done for fantasy. I love Mythology too and I’ve done a substantial amount of research on it for my Fantasy Angels Series. Craig’s book reads fascinating. I’m intrigued. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Vashti! Thanks for stopping by my blog. Craig is an excellent writer who has appeared on my blog several times now. I have also read quite a few of his books, and they are all so different. He’s one of those rare writers who can master any genre and write authentically in them. Perhaps that is in part due to his level of research, as well as his skill. What is your interest in mythology? I quite like mythology too, I concentrate mostly on Irish. You can read a bit of it on this blog, if you’re interested.


  2. Wow, I admire all the research you put into the novel, Craig. As writers it’s amazing the plot threads we stumble across (in any genre) that require research…sometimes exhaustive, sometimes skimming the surface. When I read, I like to be immersed in the worlds I’m reading about–whether mythical, contemporary or historical. I always appreciate when a writer takes the time to transport me there through research.

    I like the twists you’ve given your Dwarves. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Too right every story needs research! Too many writers think you just make everything up, let your imagnation flow. The fantasy genre can be a real showcase for a writer’s ignorance if you go down that road. Recently I started (and abandoned) a medieval style fantasy where the hero, who wants to deliver a message to the king, rides through town, knocks on the castle door (yes, just like that) and the king gets off his throne (the front door opens onto the throne room) where he’s having a fatherly chat with his daughter, to open the door! It isn’t an excuse to say ‘well, it’s fantasy so I can write it how I like’. If it sounds ridiculous then you can’t. Not if you want to be taken seriously anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

      • It was given to me to review. I quietly forgot about it. I thought it was a joke at first but the joke just didn’t end. I feel so embarrassed for the author.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I do wonder about that sometimes… dont these people read and learn from what they read? Really, its the only way. You dont have to be great at grammar, for eg, to tell a good story, but you do have to be a good storyteller, and like anything else that takes study, time and effort. I once saw a guy on google asking for reviews. He said he didnt want to do reviews in return as he didnt have the time, and anyway he didnt read as he didnt like reading… wtf?!! Why then does he want to be a writer? How can anyone be a writer if they dont like reading??? Perhaps he was just a troll, but then would a troll go to the trouble of writing a book? He certainly got a few people riled!


          • Nothing people say surprises me. Annoys and irritates but not surprises. These are the people who get self-publishing a bad name. They flaunt their ignorance, their lack of savoir faire and expect to be famous!


Please feel free to join in the conversation...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.