Reckless Rabbit-Trailing

One of the pleasures of writing fantasy fiction is world building. In fantasy, anything goes. You want your characters to have interesting-coloured eyes? Make ’em purple. Or better yet, turquoise. (Just as an aside, the turquoise-coloured eyes of some of the main characters in Seventh Son simply appeared in the course of writing the story. I sat down and started to write,  and when it came to finding a simile for the colour of the pottery bowl – you know, the one that sucks Cat off to Ruph – I wrote “It was a turquoise blue, very much like the eyes of the weird guy that had stared at Cat so disturbingly…” Completely unplanned, but there they were – turquoise eyes. When I wrote that, I had no idea who this person was, or that he was important in any way. Turns out he was; very much so. Good thing he strolled into the pages of the story with his turquoise eyes just when I needed something to compare the glaze colour to.)

Anyway, point being that in fantasy fiction, you can just make things up. But still, they have to be coherent. In the Septimus world, for example, it turns out that turquoise eyes are unusual. Most people have ordinary-coloured eyes – blue or brown or grey; and their skin tones are just normal people-colours, too. In other words, that whole world is pretty much like ours here, with a bit of magic (and turquoise eyes) tossed into the mix. Well, it’s like ours was a long time ago. Being an inveterate history nerd, I made the setting something akin to the European Middle Ages. And within that setting, things have to work together. I’m not dealing with actual history, so I can get away with giving my quasi-medieval characters a closed cook stove with an integrated water heater – something that wasn’t invented in Europe until almost Victorian times. They also have a town clock. But no electricity or steam power, and no magical equivalent thereof, either (at least not yet. I think. Maybe. Who knows, something might stroll into the pages again…).

And so, taking together the requirement for coherence with the freedom to make things up, I have to do research. Yup. Must. It’s one of the hardships of writing fiction that is set anywhere other than the here-and-now. I’m forced to google things, and it is my writerly duty to keep running after the rabbit trails that appears in the process.

So, today’s starting question was: if Ilim is two days’ travel from Ruph (which is a fact that strolled into the pages of Cat and Mouse), and Rhanathon five days (which is something you’ll find out in Checkmate), just exactly how far is that in physical distance? Given that Ruph is in the mountains with a fair amount of forest around it, and that they travel by horse carriage or on foot, well…?

StagecoachSome two-and-a-half hours later, I had more than a dozen windows open in my browser, and had arrived at reading about the average income of a Regency labourer and the cost of taking the stage coach from London to Bath in the time of Jane Austen. (In case you’re wondering, according to this page it was approx. £2. Given that a worker earned no more than £25/year, that’s pretty much the equivalent of the cost of an airplane ticket from Canada to Europe today. Hiring a post-chaise, as the likes of Mr Darcy would have done, meant renting a private jet – it was about £100 for the trip.)

Anyways, see how that happens? You start out researching how long it takes for a horse carriage to travel from one point to another, and end up with Jane Austen. And you find out all kinds of interesting things about the Pony Express on the way – those guys were fast! And really young – just kids, most of them. Oh, sorry, where were we? Travel distances, right.

Life, the Universe, and Writer’s Research Rabbit Trailing. Those are the pleasures of creating.

4 thoughts on “Reckless Rabbit-Trailing”

  1. Lol. Love this and you’re soooo right!! I’m stuck in a meadow of rabbit holes! I’d move forward but then I just slide down the next. I could be here for a very long time! Lol. Feels that way sometimes, doesn’t it? Although it’s not necessarily a bad thing, and as you pointed out, you could bump until Ms Austen along the way. That’s never bad. 🙂

    I like how you said that characters just walk into your pages. It’s like you’re writing away and then you loom up with your writer’s eyes, and there someone is. Standing right there. And you have no idea why he’she happened along, but as you continue into the “maze” the character seems to write itself. Yes, there’s research, but the character lets you know what is and isn’t right. Have you ever written a line and then immediately thought, “No way. He/she would never say that.” Delete, delete, delete. Lol. Maybe that’s just part of my own experience, but I find that characters really do have their own lives…and their own “say.” So, I totally get what you say about your character “stroll[ing] into the pages of the story.”

    Great post. 🙂

    1. Oh yeah, academic research is even better on the rabbit trailing line – except more guilt-inducing, because you’re really “supposed” to be “focusing”. Fiction is all about letting your imagination wander, so if it chooses to wander off on rabbit trails, well…

      Those random characters, writing them is all about striking the balance between pantsing and plotting. I have characters that were originally meant to be [something], but then they ended up being [something else], or [somebody else] took over and stole their role, but some of the traits I gave them for [the first thing] are still sticking around.

      And don’t worry about the typos. They happen (it’s the rabbits’ fault).

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