When you’re worldbuilding, you want to make the world you’re creating feel both realistic and new. That means you need elements that feel familiar and elements that are unexpected (especially if your story is fantasy or science fiction). Research is useful for the new aspects and absolutely vital for giving an impression of realism. Besides the library and the internet in general (the automatic first thoughts of research), here are 5 resources for worldbuilding research that too many people overlook.
5 Research Resources for Worldbuilding That Writers Overlook (But Shouldn’t)
5. Fiction Novels
No, I am not suggesting you use fiction novels as your primary resource for worldbuilding research; however, looking at multiple novels of the same genre with the same basic setting can be very good for learning what the most common interpretation of that time period is. You don’t necessarily have to follow it, but it is helpful to understand what the average reader is going to be using as baseline (the actual or believable problem).
If you’re looking for clothing, weaponry, furniture, architecture, or social norms, art can be pretty revealing, especially of older periods before abstract art became popularized. You can look it up online or support your local art museums and have an enjoyable outing while you do your research. Win-win, right?
Plays written during the time period you’re researching give clues for dialogue, important social changes (news), clothing, weaponry, and humor. Reading them is definitely handy. If you can go see one, however, you will get a much better impression of the story and flow. You may even find yourself inspired by the creative energy generated by live theatre (I would honestly be surprised if you weren’t.).
2. Reenactors/Hobby Historians
Reenactments are attempts to accurately portray a historic event or location. You’ll most commonly see them at famous battle fields, historic locations (forts, castles, etc.), and history-themed festivals, and the place and time they focus on is dependent on the historic event or location in question (the American Civil War, Colonial America, the Old West, the English Renaissance, etc.).
Reenactors are the people who dress up in the historic costumes and, generally, do everything they can to make the reenactment historically accurate. That includes cooking with cast iron on a camp fire, chasing each other with flint-lock rifles, spinning wool, making soap, and more. They have already done tons of research into the everyday lives of their characters, and they did it for fun.
Their enthusiasm for their topic makes them willing, even eager to share it. Believe me, if you ask a reenactor about his/her area of expertise, you will get all the information you need!
1. First-Hand Accounts
Technically, these fall under library research, but I thought they were worth a subheading under first-hand accounts simply because they may not come up in a search for books about a certain time period – because the subject isn’t that period, it’s a person who just happened to live in that period. They may not even be in the same section of the library as the other books about that time (unless they’re first-hand accounts of a war or something).
So if you run into a block, try looking up books about people who lived in the time you’re researching. It may take a bit more effort to pick the information you need out of the story of the person’s life, but you also generally find information you didn’t know to look for.
People Who Lived It
Last, but most definitely not least, people who lived it are my number 1 research resource for worldbuilding that I think writers too frequently overlook. And, yes, I know it’s not possible for all time periods. When it is, however, do not let it slip by, or you will regret it.
For example, I’m working on a YA fantasy novel called Wind Town, which is set on a farm in rural America in the mid 1900s. When I was a few chapters in, I ran into some stumbling blocks in my research. I could find general information about what farming and language was like, but I wasn’t finding the specific details I needed for the story.
That’s when I had an epiphany: my grandparents grew up on a farm in the U.S. in almost exactly the same time period as the story was taking place.By talking to them, I was able to get first-hand accounts of living conditions, language, and more. They were (and continue to be) the absolutely best resource I could want for that story.
Well, those are my 5 most overlooked resources for worldbuilding research. Did any of them surprise you? Are there any I overlooked?