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Introverted_Leo's avatar

Fantasy writers: do you ever feel paralyzed by the need to research before writing?

Asked by Introverted_Leo (1957points) April 8th, 2009

For example, let’s say you’re writing a story set in a timeframe that’s different than today though similar to one in the past. But it’s in a fantasy world. You’ll still want to research that similar time period as well as any other important elements which might lend your story some verisimilitude.

Though sometimes, in the midst of researching, it’s easy to forget that you are, indeed, trying to write something that is fictional (and fantasy). How do you get past the need to “know” things, let go and stop worrying about whether your story sounds realistic or not? Especially when it’s just fantasy, at what point does verisimilitude turn your fantasy into historical fiction?

Sometimes I just feel like I can never know enough, and that can become a hinderance to creativity.

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10 Answers

YARNLADY's avatar

One of the main rules of writing is to write about what you know. If you are writing about a time period you aren’t familiar with, there is a chance that inaccuracies will detract from your work.

I just finished reading an ‘alternate’ history that has aliens on earth during the mid 16th Century, and there are a few changes, such as Jane is Queen, but many accurate historical references make the story that much more enjoyable.

mattbrowne's avatar

I can only share with you my experience of writing a science fiction novel and my thoughts how this relates to writing a fantasy novel. I think there are some common elements for both genres, but also some differences. For science fiction (especially hard science fiction) you need to research the science part very thoroughly, which takes a lot of effort. In the case of fantasy there’s one major aspect which seems key to me: you need to be consistent about the objects and rules you create. Very often you don’t have to explain why certain rules exist, but you have to explain how they work. What both related genres have in common is that all characters have to be portrayed in a consistent way in terms of applying the rules and how the world around them behaves.

Keeping a longer novel consistent is very hard, especially when you apply changes or start deleting portions of it (which is very important, because you want to keep the good stuff only). So how do you get past the need to “know” things, let go and stop worrying about whether your story sounds realistic or not? In my opinion you can do this after your general framework has been laid out. While it’s good to keep a journal with all the meta information, it’s also worth memorizing the most important aspects. So whenever potion A is mixed with potion B the magic dragon will… and so forth. If you change any of this (which you can if it makes sense), it’s a good idea to explain why.

When your general idea is somewhere in the back of your mind, just start typing away like crazy. Don’t worry about errors or missing words or whatever. Stop worrying completely! Let it flow and flow and flow. Enjoy the sensation of the moment. You can worry about the details later. There are many good books for aspiring writers with lots of ideas and tips. There’s one book with excellent advice I’d like to recommend:

“Sol Stein on Writing” – A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies. The paperback version is available for less than $15. A very good investment, I think!

On my website I’ve documented some of my other experiences. If you’re interested let me know and I will send you an PM.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

oh gads yes! I don’t know how many times I have wanted to write a story from an excellent idea, but can’t find a source from which to build a believable story line. I even asked my favorite sci-fi author John Varley about it once, and he said, when in doubt, make it up. I found that reply less than satisfactory. I respect him more than any other writer alive, but sometimes I wonder if his successes have overshadowed his earliest attempts and thoughts. Of course, he started writing many years ago, and it was a different time then.

I had an awesome story idea, but then came the question, how does one write about sexy human-like robots that fulfill the needs of people with unusual sexual habits in a future world where sex of any kind is verboten? Not only how does one do it, but how does one do it without plaigarizing other authors who have written stories along the same lines? Sometimes creativity isn’t enough; and I spend DAYS searching the Internet for information to answer questions that seem to have no answers. Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions.

If you ever figure it out, let me know, will you? I have a dozen great ideas I can’t get started on because I don’t know where to begin.

Ria777's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra, no need to worry plagiarizing works you don’t know. linguistically plagiarize means, literally, to steal, and you can only steal from works you know and you would probably treat the idea differently than the other writer.

I think that creativity will actually solve any problem you have as long as it involves ideas and not actual facts.

actually, though, I think that your premise could use work. I wouldn’t think of it so much as a world where they forbid sex so much as one which forbids humans having sex with other humans.

mangeons's avatar

No, I’m an avid fantasy writer, I’m 33 pages into a story right now, and I just sit down and write. I do get MAJOR writer’s block though. xD

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

@Ria777 that is what I meant, humans having sex with other humans, not sex in general. That’s what happens when my mind goes faster than my fingers. Thanks for the clarification on plagiarizing.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

@mattbrowne: yes, please! (And GA, btw.)

@evelyns_pet_zebra: My problem isn’t really getting started (I’ve done that too many times with the same ideas now, haha); I just can’t finish! I get beyond the halfway point and suddenly I don’t believe in my story any more. Then I consider a new outline and start over again. LAME. (But if I ever “figure it out,” I’ll be sure to let you know!)

@all: I guess the all-around answer is to just sit down, shut up and write, huh? And then eventually finish.

…Bah. BAH, I say!

<sighs> Okay, then, I guess it’s back to work. :D

mattbrowne's avatar

@Introverted_Leo – Just sent you a PM. Let me know what you think about the tips.

Ria777's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra, the subtle distinction between no sex at all and no sex with other humans makes the subtext and theme very different. working out distinctions like that matters a lot towards the overall success of a story. thinking about theme and story has a lot more relevance (or equal relevance) than the “did they have belt buckles in the 14th century?” kind of questions.

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