• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

Do you need basic knowledge of everything?


You have to know only what you have to know. How long do you really want to waste describing a castle when, for the most part, readers know what a castle looks like? Describe where it differs from a 'standard' castle, perhaps, if that is an issue. If it is "mostly like a castle, except it floats" you should mention that it is hovering above the landscape. You don't really need to go on about fortified, rounded towers or drawbridges. We expect those, we see those in our heads when you say 'castle'. It is like describing waves of green leaves and sturdy brown trunks when you could just be saying "forest".

If you need to describe some important structural piece, or there is a painting of significance to the story, then you can learn a few terms and techniques. But if they are just going to be in a castle, then you're fine with whatever rudimentary knowledge you have of castles from watching Lord of the Rings.
Yes, I reckon that no knowledge is completely useless. You might never find the correct application; that's true of so many things in life.
Which renders it redundant, does it not? Being an expert on 'The Pencils Famous People Used' is, to my eyes, akin to being an expert on absolutely nothing. Of course, should one choose to write a book about such matters then no doubt numerous pencil-fetishists would buy it and the knowlege would redeem itself by having a real-world application, but of itself knowing what pencil Lord Whatisface used when sketching is of no value to you and is thus worthless.;)

Am I being too simplistic in thinking the writer should write what they know, and if you don't know what you are talking about, how are you writing it?
My stories tend to be populated by demons, angels and other supernatural creatures, but I've never been one. Or even met one. ;)

I suppose it depends on how you, as a reader, approach a book. If you're of a technical bent then I can see how details might be irksome if incorrect. Me, I tend to focus more on the grand sweep of the story. I recently re-read The Dragonbone Chair and I honestly couldn't tell you a thing about the Keep in which the first quarter or so is set. It simply doesn't matter to me. I guess these things all come down to individual preference. Who'd have thought?:D


Part of the reasons I chose to do my degree in ancient history and archaeology was because it would give me an historical and cultural overview from which I could draw ideas for my stories. Even now, I occasionally scribble something in a margin during a lecture to remind myself that I want to think about it in a fiction context, and even things I don't initially think of as being important to any stories I'm working on can later influence stuff I'm writing, and vice versa. After realising the importance of beekeeping in the Roman economy after studying it for an assignment, I'm working on including beekeeping in my novel, not as a major thing, but just as a part of the everyday running of the farm where many of my characters live. I don't know everything about beekeeping, and I have yet to attempt it myself, but I've got an idea of how the Romans did it and what they used the products of it - honey and wax - for in domestic, religious and economic life. In other words, I know enough to be able to be fairly confident I'm not making any major mistakes when I'm writing, but any more than that is unnecessary. I mean, if a few beekeepers read my novel and end up going "ha! That's wrong!" so be it. Nobody else would know and anyway Roman methods were different from modern methods so while I might be wrong from a modern POV I could still be right from a Roman POV.

What I'm trying to say here is this: You don't need to be the world authority on a topic to include it in your novel. A basic level of knowledge about something is all that is required. It just needs to be enough that you don't make any glaringly obvious mistakes. Going back to beekeeping, I might need to know about protective clothing or what time of the year honey is harvested, but I don't need to know about the biology of the bee, different varieties, bee diseases and predators, when they might swarm, or what plants they like best (although actually I do know that one and the Roman writers do mention some of the other stuff). Anything cultural I can make up - rituals or traditions for harvesting the honey, uses to which the honey and wax are put, placement of the hives, legends surrounding bees, that sort of thing.

In all honesty, though, if I hadn't been studying Roman beekeeping, I probably wouldn't have even thought of including beekeeping on the farm where my characters live. And nobody would have noticed the omission, because it isn't something people think about on a daily basis. Nobody will really care if I make a small mistake. Same goes for architecture of castle. People know terms like tower and great hall, and are familiar with kitchens, bedrooms, stables, and dungeons. As long as you know enough about these things not to make stupid or obvious mistakes, you should be fine.