Conducting Research for Your Fantasy Novel

As every author must inevitably do, whether it occurs during the writing process or when an editor is fact-checking your work, research must be conducted. I would like to proclaim that no novel in existence has ever been written without a certain level of research. However, in the fantasy genre, I think many new authors feel that the genre itself is an excuse for not researching historical facts, which is something that I believe is hurting new authors.

There are ample amounts of historical knowledge that span all of the various medieval eras and cover what war was like, of what life was like (for nobles and serfs), and what knighthood was really like. George R. R. Martin has always touted that authors should read non-fiction as much as fiction. He has a list of reading recommendations in his FAQ page under the question: “How do you research your novels?”

As far as direct research is concerned for the fantasy genre, I recently stumbled across a few excellent books. The first (The Timeline of Medieval Warfare) details the strategies of war throughout the 11th – 15th centuries, while the second (Knight) details the training, the life, the chivalry, and the honor of what it was really like to be a knight. 

Books such as these are filled with the things that can bring your novel to life. Not only do these books provide a window into the medieval eras, but they can inspire entire stories too.

Though, inspiration can be found anywhere. It was after I watched the Chinese film Red Cliff, that I realized I wanted to convey a story of strategic warfare much like the film, where two generals are trying to outwit each other in a chess-like fashion of war. But in order to do so successfully, I began to read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Within the first chapter, I learned so much that I was overflowing with ideas for my characters!

Though books are not the only medium to provide research. I began using Netflix to search for medieval documentaries, and I found a great film called: Medieval Warfare: Agincourt. I learned a lot about the bow, and how far and fast an archer can shoot, what the different arrow tips are for, and how expensive it was for the king to employ archers in his army. Things such as these provide the realism that keeps your reader within their state of suspended disbelief. So be sure to use every medium at your disposal to absorb the information you need to bring realism and inspiration to your novel.

As my final caution to new writers, I’ll leave you with this: Learning so many things will make you want to insert all of it into your story, but you should know when not to say too much. The story always needs to be the focus of your writing.

Book Review: A Clash of Kings

RATING: 5/5 Stars

OVERVIEW: A Clash of Kings is book 2 of the fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. It’s a fantasy novel that is targeted toward an adult audience. Each chapter is in the perspective of a different character and follows multiple story lines.

PLOT: After the death of the king in book one, now everyone is claiming a right to the throne. There are five self proclaimed kings that fight for the throne of Westeros, all the while the Stark family is torn apart and separated, struggling to regroup if only just to see each other once more. During the chaos of war, Daenerys (the Mother of Dragons) continues to struggle to find ships and an army to carry her across the sea to retake the iron throne.

REVIEW: First, I must commend George R. R. Martin for his vast, extensive detailing of characters and their histories. To have written this novel would have required a mountain of preparation to do it as well as he does. Furthermore, the scale of character detail for an entire continent is immense and impressive.

Second, GRRM’s writing is top tier. He has done so much research into the medieval era that he has brought that historical knowledge to life in his writing.

As far as entertainment value is concerned, I was extremely pleased throughout reading this novel. There was more magic and fantasy elements in this book compared to the first. (It wasn’t abundant, but GRRM knows how to tastefully pepper it in). I found that the chapters for certain characters excited me more than others (such as Jon, Bran, and Arya). The Tyrion and Daenerys chapters were always interesting to me, but the others didn’t catch my fancy so much (ex. Sansa, Caitlin, Davos, and Theon). My only real gripe is that this book really lacked an ending. I had thought the same for book one (Game of Thrones), but this one was worse. There wasn’t a true ending to the story; the story was still alive and open with no closure to really bring it home. But considering this is just book 2 out of 7, it isn’t really an issue.

This is a novel that I would highly recommend to any reader, even those that are not fans of the fantasy genre. As this could technically be considered “low fantasy” (meaning there is not a lot of fantasy elements mixed in compared to traditional swords & sorcery books), any person looking for a good read would appreciate this series of books. Even if you get lost with the world or in the large cast of characters, GRRM provides a map and appendixes at the back of the book for reference. As far as what one would expect from a 5 star rated book, this book (and his series) sets the bar for excellence. You won’t be disappointed.

It’s All About The Journey, Part V

Going through my undergrad degree, I didn’t read for entertainment at all. Video games, Magic the Gathering, and D&D filled that void which kept my imagination engaged. However, one major impact that college at Cal Poly Pomona had on me was how it developed my desire to be a business owner. Throughout my time at Cal Poly, my entrepreneurial spirit grew and stayed with me even after graduation. During my professional career, I was always doing some type of side-business, hoping to make the big time. I had been through over 10 different ways to make money independently while maintaining a full time job and I was well into my next business venture when my wife joyously proclaimed that she was pregnant. Immediately, my priorities shifted as I knew I could no longer risk my money in startups. My entrepreneurial spirit would have to acquiesce.

Now as a working professional, a grad school student, a husband, and a father, I was having difficulty finding the time to get my fantasy fix. I say “fix” because I think I may have an addiction, or something close to one (obsession), but our D&D gaming sessions were becoming less and less frequent. However, during one of our gaming meetups, my friends really used peer pressure to get me to read Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. I remember purchasing the 4 book set of paperback for $19.99 (cheaper than the ebooks) through Amazon. My friends had all finished reading his books way before HBO announced the series, but with the hype of a new TV show on the horizon, I knew it had to be good. GRRM is what got me reading again. That year, all I wanted for the holidays was fantasy novels. My library grew very quickly, but more importantly, I was reading again. For the record, my current favorite authors at the moment are George R. R. Martin, Gene Wolfe, and Glen Cook.

In addition to reading novels again, news broke that DC (and ultimately Marvel followed suit) that they are rebooting all of their comic books back at #1. I immediately began collecting (and reading) again. Now I have a healthy mix of super hero story lines and medieval fantasy in my reading library.

It was shortly after I began reading Game of Thrones when my friend announced he was writing a book. That announcement immediately influenced and motivated me in a way that no other “business idea” had appealed to me before. Still going through my withdrawals of abandoning the entrepreneurial side of me, I latched onto this idea with the ferocity of a lion on a gazelle. It wasn’t just my entrepreneurial side that was hungry either, it was my fantasy-starved side that also clutched at the idea with enthusiastic delight. I began work on my novel that day. No training. No preparation. I just started with Chapter 1 (which ultimately actually became Chapter 3). I later decided to use a chapter by chapter plan as I employed my story-telling skills to create a vast, magical, and detailed world. The rest is history.

This concludes the journey of what got me here today, what motivated me to write, where I get my influences from, and why I keep writing. Motivation, focus, and determination are what saw me through this project, which has become part hobby, part pleasure, and part business. Now, I will invite you to stay tuned and follow me on my journey toward becoming a published author. I will continue to document and share my experiences with you so that you can see what it takes me to get my hooks into the publishing industry.