From Fantasy Author to Researching Author

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Yahoo Image Search

Crossing Bedlam required that I do something different in both preparation and writing.  As a fantasy author, I never had to do more than look up various weapons and any pre-existing monsters I was using.  Half the time I didn’t have to find more than a picture since the magic system was mine, the world was mine, and the characters were mine.  Windemere is all in my head, so ‘research’ resembles meditation or sleeping while sitting up.  Yes, that second one has been assumed at times.

The Shattered States is the real world after a disaster or whatever you want to call what happened.  So I can’t go making up states, cities, landmarks, and creatures.  There are the Half-Deads and escaped zoo animals, but everything has to be in the real world.  I had to look up the workings of a paintball gun, various vehicles, weapons of all types, clothing, and even religion for one scene.  These weren’t even the most difficult pieces and I’ll tackle the big one in a bit.

One thing I learned in regards to research is that it helps to do as much beforehand, which is a duh.  Yet, one should be ready to pause or find a break to look up a spontaneous addition.  For example, there is a part where remote controlled drones are used in a contest.  I had to look up pictures of these and figure out if they were a viable tool for the situation.  This was not planned, so it caused a delay in that day’s writing.  Not a bad thing since I know what to look for and have some info if I want to use them again.

Gandalf

Gandalf

The hardest part of Crossing Bedlam was geography.  Need a new city or landmark in Windemere?  Listen to music and create one around the scene that I’m writing.  Need a new city or landmark in the Shattered States?  Gotta get my tush to Google Maps and scroll along Interstate-80 or wherever the action is to find something that fits what I’m looking for.  There’s a scene in Reno, NV that had me searching for any kind of warehouse or mall structure just off I-80.  I stumbled onto a very cool area in Indiana that worked as a protected hospital, but I’m forgetting the name.  All of this took days of zooming, scrolling, and switching between Google Maps and Google Earth.  These areas had to found again at the point of writing too, so I could get the descriptions close and decide on how the action would work.

And it got more difficult the further I got from Long Island.  That’s my area, which I know without the help of a map.  I’ve been to New Jersey and Pennsylvania too.  After that, I’m in the dark about cultures and specifics.  I figure I can get away with some of it since those would be different after 10 years of anarchy.  Yet I still needed to know about the terrain and what you can find in the regions.  Cleveland, OH was a headache because I couldn’t find much about the interior of the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.  The zoo map made the later action easier at least.

Now, many people would say I shouldn’t write about areas that I’ve never visited.  Well, that kind of kills the story, doesn’t it?  Can’t really make the long trip either with the kid and not much in the way of spendable funds.  So I have to work with what I can get my hands on, which is a lot of maps.  Is it perfect?  No, but I calm myself by saying that I’m working with an imperfect world.  Still, I do hope to make things easier for myself in future books.  I think there’s one more cross country adventure, but it’ll be much different than this one.

So, what was the biggest amount of research you’ve done for a story?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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25 Responses to From Fantasy Author to Researching Author

  1. I’ve been to the Rock Hall a few times – email me if you have specific questions. And my daughter lives in Cleveland so I’m pretty familiar with that area

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  2. I’m very fortunate. Writing about a fantasyland rock n roll band means my research is usually listening to loud music in bars whilst drinking beer. We fantasy writers get to do the best research.

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  3. Jan Hawke says:

    Like you, Charles, I’ve used Google Maps and Earth a lot! This was for my debut novel Milele Safari and was set for most of it in Tanzania, which I have visited, but not that part. Using Google Earth, I literally discovered gold – in a gold mine that was along a route my protagonists would have taken from an airport near Lake Victoria, to the fictional village that they were heading for. I even found them some nice picnic spots on the way in! 🙂

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  4. Google Earth is my friend. I’ve used it a bunch, most recently for New Orleans parts of The Playground.

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  5. twixie13 says:

    I’ve looked up names of famous scientists for the sake of naming streets in Hell Bent after them. I’d created a map for that. I’ve also done a hefty amount of research on chemicals that could dissolve a human body, right down to the bones. That, and the taste of human flesh. I didn’t do as much research for the sci-fi aspect (no intention of going too hard with it or anything). But I have done a good amount of research for the horror element.

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  6. L. Marie says:

    I’m grateful for Google Maps/Earth too, so I’m glad both have been so helpful for you and other authors who commented.

    Over the years, I’ve had to do a lot of research on plants and trees, birds, horses, electricity, throwing knives, clouds, marshes, etc. for various projects–novels or curriculum. I wound up buying The American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers, which has been invaluable. Had to buy a book specifically on horse types and a general encyclopedia on animals. In addition to the internet I’ve headed the library for books on medieval houses, occupations, money, and so on.

    I’m grateful that I have a friend who owns horses and can help me out every now and then when I have a question. 🙂

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    • Realizing that I get Google Maps and Google Earth mixed up. Kept thinking they were the same thing or a toggle feature.

      Encyclopedias are very useful and seem to be a lost resource. I have one for mythological beasts and another for fictional lands. Not sure what the second is useful for, but I got it for $10. Friends with knowledge is definitely a boon. I am finding that asking for help in post-apocalyptic settings is tough. Everyone has their own idea on how that world would be, so they try to push that on your when explaining what their area is like.

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  7. Oloriel says:

    I don’t know why people advise not to write about places you have never visited, in today’s world, with today’s technology, should you not, as a writer, take the chance to vicariously be there? And isn’t it commendable that not only are you writing a great story by following your ideas, you are also learning something new yourself. I don’t and will never understand knowledge shaming. My native language is not English, so should I not speak it and write English because of it? Comments like these are a mind disease, in my opinion!
    As for research, I go where I need to go, and I think I took it the farthest when I was researching a letter/gift exchange battle between Sah Ismail and just about anybody else he had a beef with (a lot of people!), all for a single poem 🙂 The gist was that the good and complete responses were all on Turskih, so husband had to join in on the fun as well 🙂

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    • Oloriel says:

      … that would be Turkish!Sorry for the typo!

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    • It usually comes from people in that area or who can afford to travel a lot. That and people who don’t write stories at all. The idea is probably that you need to have physically been there to get the real experience. Otherwise, you’ll get something wrong. There is a big push for being real in fiction instead of bending reality for a fun story. People are very analytical and take fun from poking holes in something. At least those who do it have a bigger platform, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re a minority voice.

      That research sounds like an experience. Not familiar with Sah Ismail though.

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      • Oloriel says:

        It reminds me of the push for video games to be more real and the argument these same people use to justify the “video games breed violence and delusion!” on people. Just like in a book, any fictional book but especially fantasy, I wan’t to experience something I have not or maybe do not have a chance too. It is just a ridiculous notion and comment, same as if, for example, you have to be a member of the Fantasy Club to be allowed to purchase/read fantasy books!
        Like you say, the story should be fun, but even better when it teaches me something! So much shit-talk about people being dumb and not reading science material for example, from lecturers and what not who keep insisting on their boring approach, and self-imposed smart-asses who want to dictate everyone’s written stories. It’s important to discuss these because some agents even do it (or so I have heard!) and it’s especially hard for new authors to get the courage and support to stick to their own ideas.
        Sah Ismail was awesome, as far as I can tell, but he was also not to my liking in some of the stories I discovered. I get tired of reading the same stories over and over again, so it was nice to read something new and also something funny.

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      • Oh yeah. The video game, movie, and TV show argument will probably never go away. They’re easy targets to blame for bad stuff happening. Forget that such violence has been occurring since man first showed up and even before that. Animals, which we are, can be brutal. The whole thing does make it harder for a new author to get a foot in the door.

        So, he’s a fictional character? I’ll have to look him up.

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      • Oloriel says:

        No,no, he is a real person. He was the Shah of Iran, don’t know which year cause I am bad with those stuff atm, am sleepy, but one of his adversaries and people he exchanged these iconic gifts and letters was Sultan Bayazid (reckon he is more famous!) The truelly interesting bits online I unfortunately only found on foreign languages, but there are a few pages that share some of the more famous letters/gift exchanges.

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  8. For My GRL I had to research explosives, bullets, guns, boats, GPS coordinates, compass headings, performance and configuration of boats, airplanes, Annapolis Midshipmen, Intrepid Museum, Port of New York and EMS procedures. I don’t believe an author needs to visit a place in order to write about it

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