Worldbuilding: Research Most Arrowing

When you worldbuild, research to get the details as close to accurate as you can. At the very least, if you decide to toss in some random statement of fact, consider running a quick web search to see if anything immediately, blatantly contradicts what you’re saying to the reader.

For example, say you’re writing a book on sport bow-hunting, and decide to toss in, “1588 is the last recorded instance of the bow being used in warfare.”

(Yes, I read this in a sample of a bow-hunting book yesterday. Sample, meet delete….)

Dude. Dude. Way to blow off the entire post-1588 history of Northeast Asia, significant chunks of the American frontier, and many, many places in the Pacific Ocean up ‘til and including the 1900s. Several historians on the Joseon, Japanese, or Chinese sides of the Imjin War or any ghosts from Custer’s Last Stand would specifically like words with you.

If a writer gets something so historically basic so wrong, how can I believe any other facts they try to present? It’s along the lines of someone confidently declaring they’ve found a nest of rattlesnake eggs, or a live albino horse. Just. Not. Plausible.

Note, you have a lot more leeway when you make stuff up. If you say your FTL drive won’t work inside a solar system’s Oort Cloud, or that all breeds of dragons lay eggs except for the rare live-bearing Wailing Guppies – as long as you’re consistent, readers will shrug and move on. Or possibly say, “Huh, that’s interesting!” and build a half-dozen other bits of the text into an FTL drive theory, a new biological classification scheme, or an Illuminati conspiracy. You never know.

Real-life facts, though – do the research. Do lots of research. And cross your fingers.

I admit the archery bit particularly bothers me because I’ve been reading up on Northeast Asia circa the 1600s, and I’ve found a lot of info out there. Much of it free just for looking it up, whether it be by YouTube, Wikipedia, or samples from history books off Amazon. Or archery books.

There are books and articles out there about archery as it was practiced in all corners of the globe. Plenty on their uses in war through the through the centuries. Osprey Publishing has an entire book devoted to the longbow, and another to the compound bow. The info is out there. How did a writer who considers himself an expert on bow-hunting miss it?

Don’t do this to your readers. Let them trust you, and trust in your world. Do the research!

19 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Research Most Arrowing

  1. This is what we call, Epic Fail…

    The issue of writers doing the research, at least to a certain minimal degree is important.

    even writing a fanfic of established fandom you know by heart, requires to take a look at the wiki to see if you got details right, and that when most thing are eitehr stuck close to canon, vague enough to barely have any description, or tuff teh fic writer came up with.

    consistancy is always important. but research is moreso.

    I imagine that the author in question becomes a inside joke among those who written the books you set as example, if they even notice his writing. Or it could be attempt at propaganda and historical revision of facts.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh, good grief. 1588? I distinctly recall reading about at least one somewhat off-beat soldier in _World War II_ who favored a longbow. (Might’ve been Jack Churchill? The guy who insisted on going into battle with a claymore would be that kind of guy.)

    Of course, I just read an article that concluded 9/11 was a controlled demolition–on the basis of examining what the _reporters_ believed day-of. Yes, because reporters are such well-known experts on everything. …Get back to me when they stop calling amphibious assault ships “battleships” (and do not get me started on their ignorance of firearms…).

    I’m not nearly as educated as I’d like to be, but I at least try to do a quick search before I state something as fact.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. And which more recent testing has proven the long-held folklore about them being generally better at penetrating sandbags than bullets until you reach “blow it up” calibers, so they were also useful for getting soldiers who were behind standard field shelter of the time.

        Liked by 4 people

    1. Yes, Mad Jack is one of those who would have popped up in a “ten second search for last official use of bows and arrows in combat” or similar.

      Also would’ve gotten this:

      Get back to me when they stop calling amphibious assault ships “battleships” (and do not get me started on their ignorance of firearms…).

      :twitch: At least they’re not calling them “American Carriers”? :twitch, TWITCH:

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Well, if it’s a USN/USMC amphib, it *is* technically an “American Carrier”, the same way a CV is an “aircraft carrier”. 😀

        Although for the Gator Navy, “Leatherneck Carrier” or “Devil Dog Carrier” might be more accurate. P:

        Liked by 1 person

      2. :throws slightly soft apples at SkyeFire:

        :grumbles: My gator freighter was NOT a carrier! Even if we had vertical take off spots! And that we carried people doesn’t make it so!

        :wanders off muttering:


        Liked by 1 person

  3. Vathara, considering the current state of intellectual snobbery and elitism among “archery experts”, I’m not surprised at all that something like you described would show up in a book written by one of them. Take a glance at the arguments on youtube surrounding Lars Andersen, or the later arguments sparked by Shadiversity. With the ones Shadiversity sparked, it ended up with multiple people testing stuff and recording their experimentation to determine what actually worked, as well as combing through historical evidence that pretty conclusively proved it was actually done historically… and the experts going deeper and deeper into ad-hominem and appeal to authority and denial of evidence in their attempts to claim “nope, we don’t do that therefore it’s not only never been done anywhere by anyone, it’s also physically impossible, therefore anyone who claims it has must be a liar at best.”

    Liked by 8 people

  4. In older stuff, this can be excused– say, Asimov’s Book Of Facts has some seriously HOWLERS of inaccurate information, because of reliable sources being wrong, and because of people playing telephone with Reliable Sources.

    Say, in this example, it might have originally been “when bows were replaced by firearms as a basic issued distance weapon” and the scope of the study is “stuff where people who speak the author’s language are involved.”

    Now that you can at least find out there ARE disagreeing viewpoints, yes, far less defensible; I stopped taking one of the big PR science guys seriously when I listened to his radio show for maybe ten minutes, and he dropped some statement about history that was so far off that it wasn’t even wrong so much as… like, the kind of thing my kid would get out of listening to a pop history program aimed at a different demographic. I could track down what he’d based it on, and given his age it was reasonable enough that he’d been taught it, but there was no excuse for a supposedly rational spokesman on a clearly scripted talkshow to make such a howler.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The language barrier is real. For instance, the Battle Of Midway has a *lot* of false narrative around it, mostly b/c for decades the *only* English-translated primary source was an IJN officer who really was there and saw everything, but was committing serious hagiography. This distorted a lot of really serious historiography in the English-speaking world. And when a few more recent authors started to see the discrepancies, and Very Gingerly approached Japanese historians about “hey, this guy might not have been *entirely* accurate,” the response was basically “Oh, That Guy? He’s full of BS, we’ve known that for decades.”

    Cue jawdrop.

    This was also a case where cultural sensitivity got in the way of calling out real BS for quite a while.

    (for those interested, the deep-dive on this is “Shattered Sword,” by Parshall&Tully):

    Liked by 2 people

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