Worldbuilding: Research and Headcanons

Someone once referred to writing as “building castles in the air”. Which sounds airy and delightful… and just not solid. Not enough to hang a story on. Stories are slippery sons of so-and-sos, and if you haven’t got a good rope and a place to stand, or at the very least patience and a good livetrap, you’ll never catch them long enough to write them down.

If something goes into a story, it needs to have a foundation. Maybe research. Maybe prior canon – not just fanfic, think of all the modern reworkings of Grimm’s tales, Arthur, and Robin Hood. Maybe just a writer’s personal knowledge of human nature, and “if I were trapped in a dragon lair, this is what I’d do….”

Which is one reason I read just about any odd thing I get my hands on, and do lots of more specific research. I try, as much as possible, to lay a solid footing for every element in my story. To give the reader the sense that there is something tangible, something real, behind even the oddest things that show up. To – in a sense – make sure that if there is a castle in the air, then there’s also a wizard with a specialty in elemental Air to solidify the clouds it’s floating on, and someone else with the sense to build a hydroponic system in that solid-cloud so the castle denizens have something to eat. 😉

Currently I’m using bits of a fanfic fluff idea to keep me going while I fight my way through the trickiest part of Seeds of Blood. I think the fluff is interesting, and doesn’t contradict canon, but it will involve adding some headcanon to what we officially know. So… I’ve been checking and re-checking every bit of that as it’s written, and where something isn’t straight canon, I’ve tried to write down what I used for “this might be plausible given what we know”. So that I can keep the plotbunnies grounded as much in reality as possible.

Because if a world doesn’t feel real, then characters can’t have a realistic response to it. And if you can’t manage that, the whole story crumbles.

…Just a few stray thoughts. 🙂  Now, back to beating up monsters….



18 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Research and Headcanons

  1. I believe the fancy writer term for foundation of solid to hang the fiction bits on is called verisimilitude.

    Verisimilitude is pretty important for helping with the readers’ suspense of disbelief and therefore willingness to come along for the ride.

    Hard to keep them from demanding to let off the ride if you keep making their brain shriek “That doesn’t work that way!” especially when your explanation for what the thing is working that just makes their brain yell, even louder “That just raises further questions!” – and not in the good way of interesting, tell me more but in the bad this writer is a idiot who doesn’t research way.

    Besides research and coming up with something that is at least plausible, another key factor in maintaining verisimilitude is consistency. The reader is willing to go with magic or super science being real in the story as long as you establish what the rules are and follow them. Making arbitrary changes to those rules and other pre-established stuff without explanation or really poor explanation is drawing attention to the puppet strings and breaks the verisimilitude.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t know, I always liked Stephen King’s version better(he compared it to attacking a castle, which looks completely open…but you get annihilated if you go in unprepared and the wrong way.) Then again, I think Danse Macabre and On Writing are two of the best writing books out there.

    I think there’s a difference between realistic and feeling plausible, and you do a great job with both, but I prefer the second. Mainly because I like fantasy and horror, and some of it just isn’t really realistic, but as long as it feels it might be, it works.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Speculative fiction isn’t supposed to be realistic . . . through most fiction isn’t if you stop and think about it. Contemporary romance, for example, isn’t any more realistic than your average fantasy novel despite lacking any magic and such.

      But a lot of people find fantasy elements easier to go along with if everything that isn’t magic still works the same way it always has. In fact most readers will assume that it is just like it is IRL unless stated otherwise.

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      1. Perhaps it needn’t be realistic, but it does need to be internally coherent.

        Which means taking out those bits of just-like-IRL if they don’t work with the fantastic elements that are critical to the story.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It kinda sounds like a good AU fic. You can pick and choose which bits of the original story to fit into the alternate universe, but ideally you want as many as possible. Sometimes you can fit them together in a slightly different order to get more pieces in and just glue those bits together with AU world logic. Vathara’s ‘Project Tatterdemalion,’ ‘Ruby,’ ‘Walk Through the Valley,’ Nekotsuki’s ‘The Zaibatsu Project,’ and Triple-Helix’s ‘The Shining Dark’ have always stood out as well done AU’s to me and they all have this pick-and-choose method of recrafting the world. Would recommend all of them for reading but beware medium dose of lemons in the last one, mostly around chapter 20.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Perhaps it needn’t be realistic, but it does need to be internally coherent.

        Yep. Being internally coherent is what of makes it plausible. (Plausible and realistic aren’t the same thing).

        The key words are unless stated otherwise – when the author includes magic or faster-than-light travel, that is one of their stated otherwise.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Verisimilitude is for a given audience. People vary widely in what will down easily or not at all.

        I’m mildly fixated on thermodynamics. If I can find the numbers, I may be annoyed by something that no one else will care about.

        Are the lies in a given story more than I am prepared to accept for that story? Is my willing suspension of disbelief tuned for the genre?

        When I make plans for a story, I make decisions about what I’m going to assume in what area. If it runs heavily on defeat means friendship, and I have a villain who can’t become a friend, I’d better kill him off for good at his first defeat. If I combine realistic military planning with mecha, I’d better decide how bad the mecha tear up roads. If the mechanics and thermodynamics are rigorous, but the biology is lol, I pay attention to ground pressure and how much the monster needs to eat, and ignore how its ancestors are supposed to have developed all the fancy gimmicks.

        What I hadn’t thought to do, yet, is spend much time figuring out what sort of falsehood packages a group of readers is likely to accept.

        Liked by 2 people

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