fantasy research Apr 03, 2021

Fiction isn’t wholly created by imagination. While certainly the original inception of our stories will spring from our ideas, it’s important to note that we still have to use some factual information within the content.

Even stories rooted in fantasy still have a basis in truth. Invented worlds and imagined cities will resemble real ones, and unique creatures will mimic behaviors found in humans and animals. They’ll even have their own character archetypes. So, how do you use Research to create a fictional story?

In Geoff Ryman’s brilliant 1992 novel Was, readers find three subplots woven together, each related to the story of The Wizard of Oz. We meet Jonathan, a horror actor who is dying of HIV/AIDS and his psychiatrist, Dan. We read about the life of actress Judy Garland, who played Dorothy Gale in the 1939 film version, and of her relationship with her parents. And lastly, Ryman shares the story of Dorothy herself, the unhappy Kansas girl that substitute teacher L. Frank Baum was inspired to write his famous story for. Ryman’s Dorothy isn’t THE Dorothy, and yet she is the soul of this heart-breaking story. Each person in the story has connections to the tale of the tornado that whisked a Kansas farmgirl off to the magical land of Oz - in subtle or significant ways.

That means that this fictional work is still based in fact. The author needed to know some details about the life of writer L. Frank Baum, and about the troubled life of Judy Garland. He also needed to be able to authentically portray the town of Manhattan, Kansas in the 1880s within his story. Plus, he needed information about Hollywood – both during the Golden Era when Garland was queen of the big screen musicals, and during the 1980s, where Shakespearean-trained actors were reduced to Freddy Kruger-style roles.

In our blog about Story Inspiration, we wrote that “within fiction, lies fact” and that’s true even in the most far-out, outlandish fantasy. We cannot imagine what cannot actually exist. Our most whimsical ideas are still rooted in reality – in the tangible world we live in.

Research is an integral part of building any fictional story. There will be details, facts, statistics, historical maps, blueprints, biographies, bylaws, wars and treaties that you may need to study as part of your creative writing process. While you can take a certain fictional liberty with this information, you still want your story rooted in the stuff your readers will identify. In fact, depending on who your ideal reader is, you might want to deliberately cater to their interests.

From Civil War dramas to dystopian mysteries, erotic fantasies and historical romances – each will require a certain amount of research to get the people, places, dialogue and even the narrative styles just right.

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