How work can inform your fantasies

I don’t tend to do a lot of research before I write. A little perhaps, but generally speaking, I prefer to create worlds where I can just make stuff up. It’s more exciting that way, more stimulating, although it may also have something to do with the fact that I get my fill of research in my academic work. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to inspect the dental plans of every gift horse that comes along.

Case in point: As most people know, a large fraction of fantasy titles are set in technologically primitive milieus – quasi-Medieval villages and economies where magic has taken the place of science. So it stands to reason that fantasy writers will want to bone up on the world as it was, to give their writing a touch more authenticity. But who has the time?

That’s why I was particularly struck by one particular web site I came across recently – a list of Medieval occupations. What struck me about it was how evocative the list is. You don’t need to study anything at all. Just let your eye wander down the page, drinking in all the quaint and curious tasks that had to be performed. Go ahead. Just read the list. I dare you to not start having ideas. The alewife and the lonely scrivener. The chandler meets the marleywoman. Three stonecutters and the evil hobbler. Stories, every one of them.

Which just goes to reiterate one of the most important lessons of fiction writing: story comes from character.

This, of course, can be extended further. I meet writers regularly who lament that they’ve spent years working on their worlds – magic systems, politics, races, etc., but then they seem to fetch up short, having no idea what story to write within their richly appointed worlds.

So now I think I have a suggestion for such troubled souls: look to your labourers. Make a list of all the jobs that need to be done in order to let your fictional culture function. Then read over that list. Find the occupations that speak to you. Put them together like I did up above.

And let the magic flow from there.

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About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is uniquely unqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.