Worldbuilding: Princess Rama and Research

Here’s a neat bit of info from The Composite Bow, by Mike Loades.

The naraca is an iron arrow. It is literally made of iron, from the welded head to the thin shaft that goes through flesh like a needle to the nock. The only part of it not iron is the fletching.

This makes the bunnies possibly irrationally gleeful. For two main reasons. First, talk about something that seems tailor-made for killing monsters. Second….

Second is a little more complicated. Partly due to reading things in translation, and partly due to just reading a story that was written centuries ago and was probably traveling around in oral tradition centuries before that. Put simply: how much of a description is meant to be accurate, and how much poetic hyperbole?

There’s a lot of poetic hyperbole in the Ramayana. I’ll spare you some of the most agonizing details; suffice it to say there are casual references to millions slain, and then all the rakshasas being wiped out – and then Vibishana is made king over the rakshasas, which would be kind of hard if all of them really were wiped out.

(And then there are plenty of more modern tales of rakshasas, so obviously there were some left!)

Which means when the saga says the arrows were “made of iron” – well. Unless you know where to look in your research, why would you think this was anything but hyperbole? After all, we see arrows from Hollywood all the time, and ancient arrows are always wood and feathers….

Only that’s not so. Not at all. Naraca were used in India in the time period most people match to when the Ramayana was probably written; they were used for centuries before that when the story would have been circulating. Which means if there was a historical basis for Rama, and there may well have been – then yes. Where it says iron arrows in the saga, he was probably using actual iron arrows.

And this is why I go hunting down odd books for research.ย *G* Through the library and otherwise. Because not all this info is out on the ‘Net, darn it, and nobody knows everything.

So if someone ever asks you if you should do all your research before you start to write your story… respectfully, I say no. You should do a lot of research, yes. Enough so you feel you’ve got a good general grasp on the situation, tech level, and characters you’re trying to set up for whatever nefarious plot the plotbunnies have in mind. And then write.

…And then put the rough aside and do more research. Because there’s always things you didn’t know you didn’t know!

Which, in case anyone’s interested,ย is currently what I’m doing with Princess Rama. I have the rough draft, I now have some more research materials on stuff directly related to the tech level and setting, and I plan to use that info to go back through things with a fine-toothed comb to rewrite and edit. Afterย I have the rough of Seeds of Blood finished. ๐Ÿ™‚

Speaking of research materials – I recommend Osprey Publishing books in general. They’re usually a good sum-up of what’s currently known about a particular weapon or historical warrior group, and they come with reference lists.

Now, back to writing….

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12 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Princess Rama and Research

    1. Thanks! I have books on Bronze Age war chariots and composite bows now, among other things. Which means I’ll be able to hold a book in one hand and an editing pen for the rough draft in the other, as I go “no, no, rewrite this, add this – hey this means I could add an interesting scene here….” ๐Ÿ™‚

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  1. Sorting out poetic exaggeration and the nuggets of actual historical fact, etc, can be tricky.

    You have to research before and after. Prior research gives you a good initial framework and gives the bunnies ideas. But you don’t want to interrupt your writing flow while working on the rough draft because you just realized as you were writing this particular scene that you have no idea what say 16th women’s underwear is. Or what it would made out for a person of this particular class. But you can’t break the flow to go do a bunch of research because the research will suck in and you’ll procrastinate finishing that draft. So you make a note in separate document like 16TH WOMAN’S UNDERWEAR? – and finish the story.

    Like Vathara said, afterward the rough draft you have a better idea of just what you need to research for this particular story.

    Because having a specific list is handy for not getting caught in the researching to procrastinate writing whirlpool.

    In case you were wondering why writers procrastinate writing so much – well, writing is hard work. And maybe the particular scene you need to write involves your weakest writing area making it a struggle to get through. And writers are very often perfectionists and therefore always finding something wrong with their work.

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  2. I haven’t gotten up the courage to try anything major in terms of writing yet, but if you want to talk about research, try finding two sources on the mystical applications of gemstones that agree. Anywhere. Trust me, it’s harder than it sounds.

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      1. Or if you have the time and enough bunnies, you could find/make an explanation that will fit. Flower languages are similarly contradictory, but you can make them work if you can keep straight the cultures involved. Maybe different people have diferent reactions to the same gem. Or maybe it’s the gem’s history and what kind of atmosphere it has absorbed. The combination/arrangement could have different effects on how it’s used. There is a lot of potential I can see. The way you explained how iron is a bane to both fae and the infernal for very different reasons was fascinating and I can see that same process being applied to other things. Don’t get me started on astrology though. The way it is done in newspapers and the like is total bunk and the explanations on why it should a valid guide to life and choices feels very dubious.

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      2. Astrology as done today is a lousy hack of how it was done in the 1500s. Meh!

        FYI, official Catholic position then was that while using astrology to predict the future was Wrong, using it to pick the best moment to start a project was just fine – because that wasn’t predicting, just trying to give a good start.

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      3. Culture clash where the meaning and use of a gem in one culture is completely different (and offensive! for bonus points) to the meaning and use of the same gem in another culture.

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    1. The major thing to know is what magical system or culture your source is using, or if they are just grabbagging from everything. Also it is nice to know if the translation is crap. Gemstone names can look the same but be applied very differently, which is why it is fun and frustrating to do research on the Biblical symbolism of gems and what the commentaries say about them.

      Of course, most of the primary sources think they are talking about natural properties, not occult ones.

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