It really chaps me when I hear an aspiring writer say,
I write fantasy because you can make your world be whatever you want. If you write science fiction, you have to learn all that science; if you write a historical or contemporary or mystery, you have to do so much research. Fantasy is so much easier.
Bite your tongue! It's no wonder so many readers (and other writers!) don't take fantasy seriously! So why does this strike me so hard at this point?
This has been a tough week. I am writing the culminating scene of my first arc, where the spooky music [I hope!!] we've been hearing bursts into action and leads us onward. I was delighted when I got the idea to merge this bit of excitement with the idea of a world on the brink of great discoveries--the launch of the Destinne, a ship of exploration. But after enjoying writing several little incidents and encounters that lead us to think Something Terrible Is Going To Happen, I had to actually write the big scene. And instantly, I got into trouble.
First, I woke up Monday morning with the realization that I was going to launch a ship of exploration, but the city where I've been working is in the middle of Sabria! Duh. Well, it does sit on a river. [World-building reminder: cities grow up in places where there are resources. Castles are built where there is something worth defending or someone you need to keep in or keep out.] I did not want to move Merona to the seaside, so I needed to learn something about river ports and ocean-going ships. Most rivers can't support that large a vessel. So count a day for hunting the internet for examples of inland ports - London is a great example. Hmmm...tidal influences on rivers...how far inland?
And then, of course, I needed to know what kind of ship this was. Fortunately a friend had given me a book called The History of Ships. This is a pretty dense little book that tells me a lot more about ships than I really want to know. My characters aren't going to sail on one...or are they? Where will we be as the Destinne sets sail...?
Anyway, I settle on a Portugese caravel as the model of the Destinne. Caravels were the ships most often used in voyages of exploration, as it happens. The Nina and the Pinta were caravels, as were Vasco da Gama's and Bartholomew Diaz's ships--the names take shape out of fourth grade history... But if Portier is going to be an eyewitness to this ship's launch as well as the Events surrounding it, then I need to know what he sees. It is time to call in help.
I am fortunate to know a small group of fellow writers, some published, some un-, who enjoy sharing information and expertise. One of these lovely people happens to have just done a lot of ship research for her own book. And another happens to be an expert on sailing, as well as a history major and Anglophile and avid reader of novels set in the Age of Sail. What is "warping" a ship? What is different about dealing with a river as opposed to a seaport? [Thank you, thank you, Susan and Di.]
And I learn that Elizabethan era river ports are not necessarily what we think of as harbors today, so I go online and find resources that tell me a lot about the history of the port of London. [Oh my gosh, there is so much! You can see maps of the port listing whose wharves were whose or you can read letters from American businessmen in the 1700s who come to London to buy stuff to ship home... Astonishing the resources that are out there!] OK, merchants' wharves exist. And when I need to place my characters somewhere not on the ship of exploration itself, but to watch it go, I start reading about pleasure barges that have been used on the Thames since before Elizabeth's day. Which also tells me something about what kind of river Sabria's River Ley must be - not rough and tumble, but wide and deep and placid.
If fantasy is so easy and needs no research, then how the heck am I going to put my reader vividly at Portier's side as he sees events unfold? And how am I going to devise a magical event to awe and surprise both spectators and readers, while feeling right? For as soon as I get a few nautical details on the page (not too much, even after several days of research, I want only just enough to make it real) I have to figure out the Event itself.
Two days of speculating, theorizing, woodling, rearranging, investigating motives, trolling through a book called Ancient Inventions [Did you know that hand grenades were used during the Crusades or that Aristotle wrote about divers using underwater breathing apparatus?] and the like lead me to the conclusion that I need science first, maybe science that looks like magic. That means I call in my primary scientific consultant, the Spouse. [He is worth an entire series of posts of his own, but let us say that this is a person of wide-ranging interests in all things mechanical, electrical, automotive, anatomical, and scientific - especially the odd.]
I present my problem. I need this under these constraints. I sort of thought maybe something like... An hour's discussion came up with a great way to cause the highly visible attack that I want.
Now it is Saturday and after tweaking the "gathering of all the people scene" yet again, I am ready to warp the Destinne, and unfurl the jib to bring her around, while Portier stands right under the artifact that will threaten to annihilate King Phillipe yet again. And then my broody sorcerer will... No, I'm not telling.
Thanks, everyone. I want my fantasy to feel real and I can't do it without you.