Story Research (and Food)

I was browsing Pinterest not long ago and I saw this:

(actually, I've read that fantasy authors often have the largest personal research library, in part because it spans so many topics)
Hah, indeed!

Of course, I pinned it right away, recognizing it to be true.

And it is very true.

Anyone who is going into fantasy writing may think that they don’t have to research. I mean, it’s fantasy. You can do whatever you want! You make the rules!

Yes… but where do your characters in your unique setting get food? How much can you beat up your MC before he dies of injury and exhaustion?


The thing about the injuries is fairly easy to research. You go to Google and voila! The food thing is also easy, but it requires a bit more thought.

Maybe the food thing isn’t important to your plot or maybe it is. But in order to be realistic or add least convince your readers that it’s real enough, these kind of things require some kind of mention.

So what do you do?

Well, what’s the setting? Ice everywhere and only a few months of springtime weather? A desert plagued by frequent rainstorms? A ship in the middle of the ocean? First step is to pinpoint the setting.

Once you have your setting down, it’s time to go to Google (or ask someone). “What do people eat on a ship?” “What do Arctic explorers eat?” (That’s the first question I’d ask for that one.) “What food plants grow in the desert?

And don’t forget about meat (unless you’re writing a book of vegetarians). If they have meat, do they have cages of animals until it comes time to eat them? Do they carry dried or canned meat around? How do they store leftovers (if they can at all)? How do they go about catching fish (that’s for your ship one)?

What composes a balanced diet for humans in general (or are you creating your own creatures?)? If your characters are vampires, aliens, or something else all together, you can play with the balanced diet thing. And allergies (there’s a reason garlic kills vampires).

As you can see, the research has now become intertwined with your world building. How do these people get food? Do they trade with the neighboring villages, countries, etc.?  With what? When and how? Do the all people come to them to trade food or just a few people come and bringing the food with them? And how does it come? Via canal boat? Dragons and parachutes? Hovercraft?

Your world building will probably lead to more research. How does a hovercraft work and how much cargo can it carry? What about canal boats? What if it’s really windy when those dragons and parachutes are scheduled to come (PLOT POINT!)?

Even in writing fantasy, research is still important and necessary in order to make your story believable. Once you have your research done, you can twist it to your will. You know the things your point will affect. Twist one thing, twist the others. And you now have a marvelous setting and possibly a plot point.

But research goes beyond setting. I write a lot of creatures from folklore that are already created. I enjoy knowing the original stories and lore that go with them. (Banshees are cool, by the way.) And if you want to write a fairytale retelling, it would be wise to know the original story so you aren’t accidentally copying Disney. (Please do be careful with this particular one, though. Disney changed several fairytales to make them child appropriate.)

So, that’s my take on this. Research is necessary and can be fun. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write about werewolves (and yes, I did research this).

Anything to add? Anyone have any interesting research stories to share? Let me know in the comments!


26 thoughts on “Story Research (and Food)

  1. Too true. A while back I wanted to write a novel, but I thought “I don’t want to have to mess around with any research stuff — I just want to jump in and start writing”. But as I started thinking about a topic that would allow me to do this, I realised that anything — even fantasy — would require some level of research for it to be a convincing story.

    To tell you the truth, I am yet to write a novel that has more than the barest amount of research underpinning it (though I have written several short stories). In other words, I have yet to write a convincing novel. I’m going to face this problem again this NaNo WriMo, because I don’t plan to start on it until I finish school (for good!) on November 4th — which means I’ll have to either do my research during my exams, or while I’m writing. Or I could start now, I guess — before my exams start… but procrastination is too powerful a foe.

    • I usually research as needed instead of researching before. But I’m a pantser so I don’t usually know I need the research beforehand.

      (Yay for finishing school, Leinad! That’s awesome!)

      Indeed. Procrastination is indeed powerful. But we must be strong!

  2. Fantasy definitely needs research! I mean, EVERYTHING needs research right?!! Or I don’t want to know what kind of book you’re writing…. -_- I think, what I love about fantasy, is that I can make stuff up that I’m not 100% sure I’d get right otherwise. Like distances and politics and land and historical thingies. All the human things, like eating, or the weather things, they still need absolute research. But by the amount of times I’ve used “things” in this comment alone, kind of proves I need to improve my writing skills. *sighs and trundles away*

    • Indeed.

      Oh, don’t be sad, Cait! Here! Have a cookie! We all have things we need to improve in writing. And besides, Earnest Hemingway said “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” 🙂

  3. Haha, way back when I started Noxumbra, I decided to use a fantasy world so I wouldn’t have to do the research required for a historical setting. HAHAHAHAAA. If anything I’ve had to do more research. Looking up biomes, government structure, bitheistic religions, and pratcitally everything there is to know about woad, to name a few. I’m glad I made that decision, because I like my world and parts of the story couldn’t operate anywhere else, but it did and will require a lot of research.

  4. I admit it, I try to avoid research. I’m lazy when it comes to that. I…need work. *facepalm*

    Oh well. I need work on a loooot of stuff. I’ll get there eventually. *sighs*

    Excellent post!

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