Creating Fantasy Takes Research

I used to joke that creating fantasy was easy because it didn't require any research. That changed last weekend when I gave a talk about "Making Make-Believe Believable" at the Naples Press Club Writer's Conference, and I decided to bring all the books I used to create my fantasy world. (Or to "Surround the Extraordinary with the Ordinary" as I put it.)

For those of you who aren't familiar with The Elysian Chronicles, my main character, Davian, is a special operative guardian angel. (Think "Roman soldiers with wings" meets "Navy SEALs" or "Green Berets.") When I prepared to write A Prophecy Forgotten: Book I of the Elysian Chronicles, I wanted to take the special operative culture and add it to my Elysian military. That meant research. Last weekend, I gasped at the pile of books I've read in order to create a guardian angel special forces culture:

  • Shadow Warriors: Inside the Special Forces by Tom Clancy, GEN Carl Stiner (Ret.), and Tony Koltz
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to The US Special Ops Forces by Marc Cerasini (Idiots and Dummies books were made for me!)
  • Inside Delta Force by founding member, Eric L. Haney (I used a lot of this to create a whole novella about Davian's RSO Training days.)
  • Marine Force Recon by Fred J. Pushies
  • U.S. Army Special Forces by Fred J. Pushies
  • US Navy SEALS by Hans Halberstadt

[Here I am at the Naples Press Club Writer's Conference holding up Shadow Warriors, Tom Clancy's non-fiction book about the US Army Special Forces.]

Of course, it's not enough to read about Special Forces. I also need to understand warfare in general, hence:

  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu (Best book about warfare I've ever read, and it had made me a phenomenal Risk and Hold 'Em player.)
  • Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden (for dialogue as much as anything)
  • FM 21-76 US Army Survival Manual (Everyone should read this just in case.)
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Vietnam War by Timothy P. Maga, PhD
  • Battles of the Medieval World by…a bunch of people. (I'm still working on this one.)

And I need to know about weapons and armor if I'm going to create my own, hence:

  • Weapons: An International Encyclopedia from 5000 BC to 2000 AD by The Diagram Group
  • The Lord of the Rings: Weapons and Warfare by Chris Smith (just to see what the costume designers were thinking when they designed the weapons and armor)

Since part of Out of the Shadows: Book II of the Elysian Chronicles takes place at The United States Naval Academy…

  • United States Naval Academy: Annapolis by Linda Foster w/ pictures by Roger Miller (amazing pics, by the way)
  • Plebe Summer at the U.S. Naval Academy by Pete Souza
  • Reef Points (2006-2007)
  • Brief Points (3rd Edition) by Ross H. MacKenzie

And Book III of the Elysian Chronicles will take place in Norway and draws on Norwegian Mythology and folklore:

  • Lost Worlds: Vikings by J. M. Clements
  • Nordic Gods and Heroes by Padraic Colum
  • Historical Atlas of the Vikings by John Haywood
  • Norwegian Troll Tales by Joanne Asala
  • The Troll with No Heart in His Body and Other Tales of Trolls From Norway by Lise Lunge-Larsen
  • Say it in Norwegian
  • DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: Norway
  • Insight Guides: Scandinavia

And of course, you can't write fantasy without knowing classical mythology, legends, and mythological creatures.

  • Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You by Holly Black
  • The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythological Creatures
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classical Mythology
  • Bulfinch's Mythology (which includes all sorts of cool stuff!)

I've also done a few interviews with USNA graduates, Navy pilots, Air Force airmen, and US Army soldiers, and I've visited the Naval Academy as well.

So, the moral of the story is: Don't decide to write fantasy because it sounds easier than writing historical fiction. Oh, and don't pile all of your hard cover books into two bags and try to carry them to where you're speaking all by yourself. You'll throw your back out–especially if you already have a bad foot.

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About M. B. Weston

M. B. Weston is an award-winning fantasy, pulp, young adult, steampunk, and paranormal author. Her attention to procedure and detail gives her works an authentic gritty, military feel that takes an adventure tale to the level of a true page-turner. Weston’s writing attracts both fantasy and non-fantasy readers, and her audience ranges from upper-elementary students to adults. A gifted orator, Weston has been invited as a guest speaker to numerous writing and science fiction/fantasy panels at conventions across the US, including DragonCon, BabelCon, NecronomiCon, and Alabama Phoenix Festival. She has served on panels with such authors as Sherrilyn Kenyon, J. F. Lewis, Todd McCaffrey, and Jonathan Maberry. Weston has spoken to thousands of students and adults about the craft of writing and has been invited as the keynote speaker at youth camps and at several schools throughout the US.
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