Researching| Constructed Worlds

Researching Constructed Worlds

Welcome to the last post in a series I like to call Researching Different Settings. I’ve already covered Historical Fiction/Settings and Contemporary settings. If you’re interested, click the links and read those posts.

This week the topic is constructed worlds.

What Is A Constructed World?

Constructed worlds are worlds that aren’t Earth. Think Vulcan and other planets from Star Trek, Middle Earth from Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings and other works. Think about your standard Fantasy and sci-fi world that isn’t Earth. Those worlds are Constructed Worlds.

This type of setting is also known as a Secondary World setting. It’s a very common setting for Epic and High Fantasy stories. Fun fact: High Fantasy and Epic Fantasy are used interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing. It has to do with the scope of the quest being undertaken in the story. I’ll be doing a post on it in the future.

The Types Of Constructed Worlds

Because of their ubiquitous nature in Fantasy, people can be forgiven for assuming there is only one type of Constructed World. In a way, they’re right. A Constructed World is a Constructed World. The history and reasons for the peculiarities will be different from our world.

However, because of the different types of research needed, ones that mimic either Contemporary Settings or Historical Settings, I would say there are actually two types of Constructed World.

Standard Constructed Worlds are the worlds you see in quite a bit of Epic, High, and Quest Fantasy. They don’t take after any specific timer period but tend to give a general feeling of being in some far off past. Often it is a pseudo-Medieval type of past, actually. I have many good books on my shelf with this setting. They’re quite enjoyable to read when the smaller details are well researched and compiled to help form a historically inaccurate, but internally consistent world.

On the upside, the research is quicker and tends to be much more focused than historically based settings. But on the downside, this does mean there’s less guidance for the writer about what topics to choose to research. This can mean stopping to do research on something seemingly small that will effect the story as a whole and delay finishing the novel, novella, or short story.

Historically Based Settings, on the other hand, mimic Historical Fiction/Settings in the complexity of the research. If the world is based on Ancient Egypt, it will require the writer to pick a period of Ancient Egyptian history and research the technology, values and customs, and various bits and pieces of the Era.

This research requirement can take months, even before the story is written. And if you ask any Historical Fiction writer, the research on little things will only be completely finished when the story is written and fully edited. It’s both rewarding and exhausting.

Basic Questions To Ask Yourself

Those writing something with a setting based on a historical period in our world’s history should start with the questions from the Historical Settings post. For those researching a Standard Constructed World, the following questions are a good starting point:

  • What do people wear?
  • What do they value as a society and why?
  • What is their technology like in various areas?
  • How are they governed?
  • How do their values affect societal opinions on gender, orientation, and various other topics?

As you can see, the list isn’t a long one. And yes, I am aware that I broke the cardinal rule of bullet points with that last bullet. It was needed. People don’t often consider views on those topics I used as an example in that question, nor others. But a world with a different history, especially in a multi-society world like our own, will have different values and views on things we take for granted. I’m going to can-o-worms the topic for a later post, which will be linked back to this one.

Before we finish up, I would like to say that you don’t have to take anything in this post as gospel. Not even the questions. The methodology in this post and the entire series are just ones that have worked for me.

Have fun. Discover what works for you. Consider this series and this post to be a springboard for your own methods.

You can find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Other Posts In The Series

Researching| Historical Fiction

Researching| Contemporary Settings


Reading/Watching/Listening To

Reading: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Watching: Being 17

Listening To: H.I.M Razorblade Romance

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate in links. All that means is that I may receive a small commission if you click on a link from a product I’ve recommended in this post and purchase/subscribe to one of them. I’ll only ever recommend products I’ve used and enjoyed myself.Thank you for supporting my dorky little corner of the internet!

Researching| Contemporary Settings

Researching Contemp Fic Title
Now that we’ve covered Historical Fiction, I thought we would talk about contemporary settings before moving on to the last part of the series, Secondary Worlds.

What is a contemporary setting? To do answer that, we have to answer the question of what Contemporary Fiction is. And the definition I favor is a story taking place now or in the recent past without fantastical and/or Fantasy elements.

But a contemporary setting isn’t just limited to Contemporary or as it is also known, Realistic Fiction. It can be found in certain sub-genres of Fantasy, in some Literary Fiction stories, Horror, and Mystery/Thriller/Suspense. In short, anything with a recent or present day realistic setting can be said to have a contemporary setting.

Similarities In Research

Since both Historical Fiction and contemporary settings require research, there are some ways in which they’re the same.

The most obvious is that research needs to be done in both cases, no exceptions. Even if it is a topic they are familiar with, a writer should still be checking recent developments in the topic and checking their basic facts. This allows the writer to more easily draw the reader in, to ensnare them and keep them reading the rest.

Less obvious is the benefit to the writer of doing research on and checking things they’ve assumed they know the answer to. Because as contradictory as it seems, checking facts gives the writer more room to play around and better story ideas. More room because they’re more likely find a loophole to exploit, which is especially great for those writing in genres such as Urban Fantasy. Better story ideas because each new or reaffirmed fact can potentially spark a new story or bring to light a facet of the current story which the writer hadn’t thought about.

This means that research for both Historical Fiction and contemporary settings makes for a better, more enjoyable story when done right.

Differences In Research

Similarities aside, there is what I find to be one really obvious difference between researching contemporary settings and researching Historical Fiction.

The research is quicker.

In both, the writer needs to know more than the reader in order to give the impression of an expansive and living world. But there’s a far greater volume to be done when the story is Historical Fiction. Even when a writer hyper focuses on topics relevant to their story, the scope of those topics isn’t so broad most of the time. The only time this is really true is if the character is of a different faith or is from/ live in a different culture from the writer.

A Brief Genre Talk

I mentioned earlier that some subgenres have a contemporary setting for their stories. Even gave you a glimpse at the start of this post. But it seemed silly to not give you more of an idea of what I’m talking about. With that in mind, I’ve picked four genres that use or may use a contemporary setting.

Urban Fantasy, as the name suggest, tends to have a modern, city-based setting. This can be highly involved if the writer isn’t familiar with the city and/or the country the city is located. It also means the writer needs to check the lore for the Fantasy element if it exists and check the technology. Introducing the wrong sort of phone, car and such is important for engaging the reader.

Paranormal Fiction often takes place in an urban setting and has much of the same concerns as Urban Fantasty. However, it may also take place in a small town. The second isn’t common in Urban Fantasy and means a writer not familiar with small-town life will need to research what life is like in a small town.

Non- Historical Horror opens up an entirely new can of rotting flesh for a writer. A Horror writer may need to research the lore of a monster, ways to kill people, and things like serial killer stats. They may even wish to look up historic killers/serial killers for inspiration.

You would think realism wouldn’t matter as much with Non-Historical Horror. But, speaking as a Horror writer and reader, Horror readers like their scares to make sense. If it seems silly, then it isn’t likely to scare them.

Non-Historical Literary Fiction, on the other hand, has both the least involved and most in-depth research of all four example genres. Literary Fiction or Lit Fic may mean the writer needs to look into stats on rape, abuse, the psychology of both the abuser and the abused. Racism, economics, and other such topics may be a factor as well. Never mind a myriad of other topics depending on the premise of their story. It’s a manifold type of research because of the nature of Literary Fiction regardless of setting.

I originally wanted to give you basics questions researching contemporary settings, but that seemed moot. As you can tell, the list of topics a writer may need to research when working with a contemporary setting isn’t consistent across the board. That means there are no defining questions to answer. No template. But if you need one, modifying the questions in the first post in this series may help.

You’ll probably notice a new section at the end of this post. I’m tentatively calling it Reading, Watching, and Listening To. In it, you will find bits off media that I’m focused on at the moment. Some will end up reviewed on the blog, others won’t be and are just things I’m currently enjoying. All will include purchase links in case anyone is interested in them. For those who don’t like it, my Bullet Journal posts won’t be including it in order to give people a bit of a break.

Until next time, I can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

—————————————————

Reading/Watching/Listening To

Reading: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Watching: Being 17

Listening To: H.I.M Razorblade Romance

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate in links. All that means is that I may receive a small commission if you click on a link from a product I’ve recommended in this post and purchase/subscribe to one of them. I’ll only ever recommend products I’ve used and enjoyed myself.Thank you for supporting my dorky little corner of the internet!

Researching| Historical Fiction

Researching Hist Fic Title.png

This being late thing is starting to become a pattern. I don’t like it. Hopefully, I can get back on track this month.

Historical Fiction is one of my favorite genres to read. I love a wonderfully researched story that transports me into the past. So it should come as no surprise that I would start this series, which I’m calling Researching For Writers, with researching Historical Fiction. Not only do I love the genre, I firmly believe being able to research this story translates into being more easily able to research stories with Secondary World and Contemporary settings.

What Is Historical Fiction?

There are a few accepted definitions of the genre, but my favorite is that Historical Fictions is fiction set at least fifty years in the past, and not something the writer experienced themselves.

I particularly like that definition because it makes sense. It’s concrete and separates Historical Fiction from Autobiographical Fiction, fiction based on the author’s life. A type of fiction that doesn’t have a set time period of its own.

Primary Sources and Secondary Sources

I think anyone who remembers research papers in school and college vaguely remembers what primary and secondary sources are. I certainly do. But no in-depth post about researching Historical Fiction would be complete without defining these words for the sake of clarity.

Primary Sources are sources of information from the time period you’ve chosen to set your story in. A letter from the American Revolutionary War, World War I or World War II would be a great example of a primary source. This type of source is really great at giving a writer a feel for the era they’re writing about. The thoughts, the lives, and technology of the time. Which can lead to even more ideas about how to fit the story into the era it is set in.

Secondary Sources are sources of information from after the event. Sources such as documentaries, books, and magazine articles about a certain era in time. Because of their separation from the event, these sources are great for learning basic facts and how to interpret the primary sources you’re coming across in your research.

Basic Questions

History is vast. This is especially true if we’re counting pre-history as part of human history, which we really should if taking Historical Fiction seriously as a genre. And because it’s so vast I want to take a brief detour and talk about some basic questions to jumpstart your research before getting into where to find your sources and evaluating them.

I find these questions are most effectively answered if I start by reading a general text on a historical era I’ve chosen to write about, but don’t be afraid to try to answer in a way that works for you. What works is more important than strictly following someone else’s methodology.

  • What do people eat?
  • What is their clothing like?
  • How are they governed?
  • What is the technology of the time like?
  • What is the prevailing opinion on various topics?

They’re very general, but at this stage, that’s perfectly OK. Remember I tend to read a general text on an era or event before delving deeper into things. Those texts tend to provide me with the basic answers to those questions, which then inform more in-depth questions I wish to research later on.

Location, Location, Location

Perhaps more important than having a set of questions handy for directing your research is being able to locate your sources. There’s no shortage of ways to do this. But this also brings to mind a quote from a great book to dealing with research, Going To The Sources. In it, the author notes that people are prone to starting and sometimes ending their research on the internet. This is completely true. And while I’m certainly not as anti-internet as the author of said book, I can honestly say I don’t think this habit is a good thing.

Depending on how close to the location of our story we live, basing everything on the internet at the very least robs us of being able to absorb the setting we’ve chosen. The internet, great resource that it is, can’t replace visiting real historical locations or the feeling invoked by handling or even just seeing the primary sources we’d previously seen pictures of. It can’t orient us in time so completely like those experiences often do. So with that in mind, I thought I would talk about finding sources in real life.

Public Libraries are great for locating secondary sources that can introduce you to the time period. But they’re also a place where the local paper tends to store their older editions on things like microfiche, which is sadly becoming rare as time moves on. This makes them great for local historical research.

University Libraries are a great option for those with access to one. Especially for those who are going to school or can get permission to use the resources at a given university as they tend to have a more varied collection than your typical public library.

Museums are great for really getting a look at something. While you generally won’t be able to handle things in a museum unless under special circumstances, being able to just see a bit of history really brings the time to life.

Historical Societies are a great way to actually be able to get your hands on local records that can inform and enrich the story you’re writing. Though, there are general rules about handling the material, which tend to be primary sources instead of secondary ones. What you can handle, what can be taken into the rooms housing the materials, if you need protective gear of any sort in order to be able to access the material etc.

Much like seeing the object in a museum, being able to come face to face with history in this way makes the time period and its people more real. Even if you do come across views and attitudes you find disturbing during the process, which you likely will at some point.

Evaluation

Now that you’ve found your sources, it’s time to examine them. Unreliable sources are the bane of a researcher. Here are some quick tips:

  • If starting somewhere like Wikipedia, make sure article cites its sources and they’re easily traceable, the author of said sources being in good standing with the academic community.
  • The same can be said of books. Citing sources and being in good standing is important for all of them.
  • When reading documents from the era, keep in mind that even modern texts tend to show the biases of the author.
  • When handling artifacts, if you have the chance, look for indications of the era. Sometimes things can be dated incorrectly and it’s up to you to be able to spot the differences.

Until next time, you can find me on Twitter and Facebook.

My Research Process

Each good writer has their own method of research. A method that is, among other things, the following:

Now, what qualifies as adaptable and reliable will change from person to person. But my own personal method works for me, and that’s all any of us can ask for. I hope that by detailing my method, someone will be able to take bits and pieces to create one that works for them.

My Method

Though I wouldn’t call it complicated, my method of research and taking notes does have a number of components that make it work for me as a writer. I use an analog capture method like the Bullet Journal, start with the most interesting thing first, make sure to answer some basic questions, and follow a note-taking procedure that I find to be effective in my own work.

Starting With The Interesting Stuff

If someone asked me, I would say this is the most important part of my personal research method. More important than how I take notes, my questions lists, or the way I use a Bullet Journal to capture notes and other information.

Without it, the other two would be a moot point. Who wants to spend hours and hours researching something that they have no interest in? Not me and definitely not when it comes to my writing, which I love.

It is with this in mind that I always try to start with the subject I find most interesting first when undertaking research. Starting with the interesting subject leads to more investment in the research itself. It also means that I am able to, through my research, develop an interest in areas I didn’t previously find interesting.

Generally, it means I look at big picture books first or in the case of a book on Hatshepsut that I’m reading, look at things from an individual to system approach. This was the life of Hatshepsut at this time in Ancient Egyptian history, how was it influenced by big picture things going on in Egyptian history at the time? This is what life was like in 1917, what impact would it have on the lives of the character in my story?

Analog Information Capture

analog

I prefer to capture as much information as I can via my Bullet Journal and binders or notebooks. Using and analog or non-digital method, whether a Bullet Journal or something else, means that I don’t have to worry about my computer or some other device conking out on me when I’m in the middle of doing something. This allows for an uninterrupted flow when I’m researching or writing.

You don’t need to use a Bullet Journal for this to work. I just love the Bullet Journal as a method of analog information capturing. Mainly because I’ve found it to work for a variety of different applications in my life. The benefit for my research process, in particular, is astounding.

If using a Bullet Journal for research, however, I would suggest dedicating it to a specific project instead of multiple projects. I like to keep the following types of things in my project related Bullet Journals:

  • research notes.
  • a bibliography.
  • a project breakdown.
  • a basic questions list.

The basic questions list will be explained and so will my notes, but the bibliography is basically the same as a research paper or a secondary source text like Whirlwind by John Ferling (Amazon link). It’s a good way for me to keep track of what I read for a project/novel. Sometimes it’s short and sometimes long.

Sometimes it’s short and sometimes long.

The project breakdown, which I reference here and here (Link pending.), allows me more control over the scheduling aspect of the process.

Another thing someone may want to add in is a log of some sort, a tracker for research hours. Which I will be incorporating into things myself. Like I mentioned at the start, a good research process is adaptable and reliable.

Questions Lists

questions-list-1

For some strange reason, I like lists. I just do. They’re useful ways of keeping information straight. Which is part of the reason the Bullet Journal works so well for me, being that it is, in it’s most basic form, a book of lists and/or sketches.

One of the types of lists I kept, even before I started to use a Bullet Journal, was what I like to call a  basic questions list. It’s something that helps me determine the basics of a story’s setting. Which may seem odd, but considering how influential to the story setting can be, is something I’ve found makes sense to know in order to frame my research.

My basic questions lists, generally, fall into one of three categories: secondary world, historical, and Earth-based settings. Each playing a part in how much research and the type of research I may need to do for a project.

secondary-world-questions

The research needed for secondary world settings, whether Fantasy or Science Fiction, tends to vary depending on the story. Something it shares with the Earth-based settings. A setting based in whole or part on a specific place and time requires more research, in my experience than one with a more nebulous base.

earth-based-questions

Earth-based stories also have a variable amount of research, but where they differ from Secondary World stories is that, for my work, the range of genres is wider and the research very detail oriented rather than big picture. This type of set of questions also tends to mean that the story is either near future, contemporary, or near past. Something which, itself, helps with the research being more detail based.

historical-questions

Lastly, we have the historical questions. Historical stories, be they Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror etc. require the most research. Because in order for the story to ring true and make sense, the story needs to make sense within the chosen time period.

Answering my historical questions list is the one I take the most time on out of all three for. I like research, so I devote quite a bit of time to research in all three cases. But I spend longer researching the questions on my historical list in order to be better able to determine my plot, character histories, if something I want to do in a story is even possible and how etc.

Notes

note-taking

Notes are the last part of my research methodology. They’re separated into two types, primary and secondary, because that makes them easier to label and reference later if and when I need them.

secondary-source-notes-2

Secondary source notes, or notes made on materials not contemporary to the event, are done like the picture above. Doing it this way allows me the flexibility of incorporating any needed changes to this part of my process pretty easily. Like in a previous post, where I mentioned that I’m trying to make the area below direct quotes into their own miniature references.

Primary source notes are, as mentioned in the same post, done differently. What I didn’t mention is that I’m working on distinguishing notes that deal with terminology. For now, I’m experimenting with a gold dot to signal those types of notes. So far, I like it.

Since both all of these things are done in a Bullet Journal, I make use of a hack known as threading. Threading is when you write the next or last page that is part of the collection next to the number of the current page. It’s most useful when the parts of a collection are separated by several pages being used for pages that are part of other collections.

Materials I Use

The Zebra Z-Grip Flight in Broad (Amazon link.).

The Uni-ball Signo UM-153 in Gold (Amazon link.).

The Moleskine Classic Notebook in Large (Amazon link.).

That all for now. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram and the blog or check out my Facebook page if that is what you prefer. I hope anyone reading this has been able to get something out of it.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate in links. All that means is that I may receive a small commission if you click on a link from a product I’ve recommended in this post and purchase/subscribe to one of them. I’ll only ever recommend products I’ve used and enjoyed myself.Thank you for supporting my dorky little corner of the internet!

Research Tips For Writers

research-tips-title

Sometimes new writers can underestimate the importance of doing research. I know that it was something I struggled with myself, though it wasn’t for lack of trying. The problem was I hadn’t come across a research methodology that worked for me as a writer yet. I knew I needed to research and that all genres and stories would require it.

From a Gothic Fantasy story featuring a lesbian relationship and set on a world that resembles  18th century New England/England, based on the poem Anabel Leed by Edgar Allan Poe.  To world hidden within our own, or one that doesn’t resemble ours at all culturally but uses swords. Even a coming of age story set in the year 2000 or a modern Horror story/Thriller featuring a serial killer. (Badly research serial killer stories are, surprisingly, a lot worse to read than most people would think. And so, for that matter, are badly research SciFi & Fantasy stories of any sub-genre.)

Then I found Anthony Brundage’s Going to the Sources (Amazon link.), and though I found his aversion to computer sources weirdly amusing, things started clicking into place for me. The most important being something I had already known but didn’t quite understand, the difference between primary and secondary sources.

Primary sources are things like letters, news footage, diaries, artifacts, and other items that actually come from the era a writer is researching. Think of Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man (Amazon link.), an Ancient Egyptian tomb and its contents, an item of clothing from the 1940’s, and newspapers from 1820’s London.

What a primary source does is provide facts while putting you in the mind of people or a specific person living in a place during a certain era in time.

Secondary sources are by contrast, though all great ones are supported heavily by primary sources, distanced from the event by virtue of being written after it took place. Generally by someone who didn’t experience the time in question or were not even born when considering modern scholarship of things from more than a century ago. Books like Between Women by Sharon Marcus (Amazon link.) or Whirlwind by John Ferling ( Amazon link.) for example. The upside of this type of source, however, is that we have the chance to evaluate the writer’s logic by comparing them to the Primary sources and judging the quality that way. A book with a logical theory and approach to proving it for example often lists a lot of Primary sources in the bibliography.

The upside of this type of source, however, is that we have the chance to evaluate the writer’s logic by comparing them to the primary sources and judging the quality that way. A book with a logical theory and approach to proving it for example often lists a lot of primary sources in the bibliography.

Tips

Now, to get to the part of the post you’ve been waiting for. The tips themselves. I’ve created a handy infographic with them, which you can find below and to the right:

research-tips-graphic

The tips are simple in and of themselves, but I’ve found that implementing them is the main component of a successful research strategy for me. And in order to do that, I’ve found that I have to be flexible in my approach to them.

Let’s use notetaking as our example. I use the Bullet Journal® system for my research related to writing. (You can find my post about how I use it for writing here and here, though I will be doing a more comprehensive post about the way I use it for projects like novels in the future.) I also format my notes differently depending on the type of source I’m working with. When working with primary sources, I put the reference information at the top of the page right under the title. On the left side below that,  I put the text of the source. On the right, I have my notes and impressions of the source. Sometimes I like to print the sources out if they’re from a reputable site like Yale Avalon and too long to easily write out. In which case, I copy, paste and make sure to put the link in the upper right-hand corner.

For secondary source related notes, the procedure is similar. Reference info and the title of the article and all that jazz, though I don’t print info from this type of source since I prefer to own the actual text in this case. The notes themselves are done in a bullet point style, differing from my typical dash for daily log notes. I keep them fairly uniform in nature so the focus is on the notes. Here’s a graphic of how I tend to do my secondary source notes since it is sort of difficult for me to explain.

secondary-source-notes

As you can see, my personal impressions are signified by a gold bullet point instead of my standard black bullet point that I use for other secondary notes. And quotes pulled directly from the text have the page number located on the right-hand side just below the quote itself.

But you’re probably wondering this has to do with being flexible. Simple. I’m not married to this exact style of taking notes for secondary sources. In fact, I sometimes have a thin column on the left where I store more information. Things like the chapter and/or the subheadings. But I’m trying to streamline things and turn that info into a sort of mini reference under my direct quotes.

I’m always looking for ways to make my notes more efficient and easier for me to use in the future. Which, when I actually think about, is what makes a good writer. You adapt things about your system that aren’t working for you until you have a method that works and a story that shines like a diamond. Notetaking and research are just one of the areas we can polish our systems until they shine.

I hope this post was helpful. You can find me on Instagram, Twitter, and my Facebook page. And once I finally conquer Pinterest, you will be able to find me there as well.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate in links. All that means is that I may receive a small commission if you click on a link from a product I’ve recommended in this post and purchase/subscribe to one of them. I’ll only ever recommend products I’ve used and enjoyed myself.Thank you for supporting my dorky little corner of the internet!