Posted by: Phil Anderson | October 13, 2013

Exploration and Research

The second Monday in October is the date that many people celebrate Columbus Day. Despite the disparaging things that people say today about Christopher Columbus and his treatment of native people, it took incredible courage, boldness, and confidence to sail out into unknown seas in search of a shortcut that many believed did not exist. And though the Vikings and others may have discovered the New World first, it was still unknown to most of the Old World; Columbus is credited with revealing its existence to the general public and launching a new era of travel, exploration, and colonization, for good or for ill.

I like to explore new and interesting places, too. I have never been the first person to find an undiscovered place, but if a location is new to me then it still feels like a discovery. The problem is that since I can’t afford to travel much, most of the places I encounter are neither new nor interesting; one local town or neighborhood is much like another.

In fiction, however, almost every place is new and interesting. If it weren’t there would be no point in sending characters there. My favorite novels in the fantasy genre are those with maps in the front-matter. I like to see where my heroes have been and what other places there are to explore. A world seems more real if it extends beyond what is known.

Part of the fun of being a writer is the opportunity to create that world. The characters inhabit a certain space that the writer has discovered and settled for them. Then if they happen to travel beyond their original environment, the writer gets to precede them and explore it first.

Of course this applies primarily to fantasy settings; historical fiction requires a completely different type of exploration. When I wrote my novel Pirate Journey, I spent a lot of time in research, especially geographically. The Dahomey slave traders in Africa were authentic. The weather patterns in the Atlantic, both hurricanes and doldrums, are natural. The Skeleton Coast on the Atlantic side of Southern Africa is real. And though I didn’t get to create these places, I had the fun of exploring them and fitting them into my story where others could discover them as well.

Reading and learning are my route to discovery and exploration. Are you an adventurer, a traveler, a seeker?


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