Today Craig Boyack, author of C.S Boyack’s Experimental Notebook and his newest release, The Playground, is visiting Journey to Ambeth with a fantastic post about research. As he says, writing speculative fiction means that you can do pretty much whatever you choose within a story – however, for it to be effective, there has to be some basis in reality. That’s where research comes into play.
People don’t often realize how much research goes into speculative fiction. Obviously we’re making some pretty fantastic stuff up, but there are points where it has to be grounded in reality, and/or history. This is where research is required.
The heroine in The Playground is Dr. Gina Greybill. She’s an oncologist who survived her own bout with cancer. There are a few futuristic items in play here, but her life gets turned on its head by a paranormal encounter.
As she adapts to her new circumstances, she has to deal with the big issues behind the story and needs more information. Having recently been exposed to the paranormal world, she thinks an oracle of some kind might be able to help her.
It turns out, oracles are in short supply. There is one in North Korea, but no chance of contacting her. This leads to a scheme to contact a dead one. I spent a long time researching the trances of Edgar Cayce. Cayce has his fans even today, and I want to keep a smidgen of reality to this part of the story. Several days of effort led to a few paragraphs in the story.
The Playground becomes a chase for the maguffin. Of course it involves competitors, and tension. I wanted the characters to wind up in New Orleans. I can’t just hop in the truck and drive down for a fun weekend.
Google Earth became my best friend. I used street views, and more to make sure the area is as realistic as possible. The names may have been changed, but the places in the story are real. I used the same approach in Memphis.
I did some looking though the seven deadly sins too. These made great encounters for Gina to overcome as lesser demons. You’ll find despair worms and pride crabs in the story.
This may not seem like a ton of research, but it took many days. I’m pretty serious about this part of my work. The Playground has a paranormal bent, but it doesn’t matter if it’s science fiction, or fantasy. Readers need some things to ground them into the story. This makes them more willing to accept the fantastic things that go on.
In speculative fiction you can make the world any way you like. It’s a bad idea to change
absolutely everything. The readers will have a hard time keeping up. I like to keep trees pointed toward the sky, water flowing downhill, and day vs night. Glaciers are for mountains, and lakes are in the low places.
A bit of additional research helps with these concepts. I could have made up my own seer. I could have used a fictitious city. Any kind of creepy monsters could have filled in the gaps, but relating them to the seven deadly sins makes them more familiar. By researching these items, it helps ground the reader for the amazing things that occur.
I was born in a town called Elko, Nevada. I like to tell everyone I was born in a small town in the 1940s. I’m not quite that old, but Elko has always been a little behind the times. This gives me a unique perspective of earlier times, and other ways of getting by. Some of this bleeds through into my fiction.
I moved to Idaho right after the turn of the century, and never looked back. My writing career was born here, with access to other writers and critique groups I jumped in with both feet. I like to write about things that have something unusual. My works are in the realm of science fiction, paranormal, and fantasy. The goal is to entertain you for a few hours. I hope you enjoy the ride.