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Using Non-Fiction Sources for Worldbuilding

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Black Dragon, Feb 16, 2019.

  1. Black Dragon

    Black Dragon Staff Administrator

    When world building, do you often use non-fiction sources? If so, what types of sources do you turn to?
  2. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Archmage

    But of course. I will grant a lot of my non-fiction revolves more around food and occasionally figuring out how things in the old days were. Or depending on what I plan on doing, looking up what's needed for general research. I really don't do specifics as I write broadly. It may be fantasy, but many of us are very willing to use pastiches of real people, living or dead and it helps to know about them. Or how to cut wool because the protagonist is a shepherd and that little bit may add something to it.

    Or you just get sidetracked by lamb recipes and shepherd pie's ones. Or I do, anyways.
  3. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    Constantly using other sources. Too many probably. Mainly other books. And Wikipedia [or the net in general]. Also places like Mythic Scribes.
    The people at Mythic Scribes have a lot of knowledge and wisdom that can be tapped in to and graciously shared. The Net is good for general information and getting lost down rabbit holes of research. But it is physical books that win out. It can be a bit hit and miss [you have to find a good author] but a single book can have more information and context than a dozen websites. When my father died one of the few good things was that I inherited his book collection. So if I need to know about steam engine/trains or just about anything mechanical [motorbikes, cars, aircraft etc] I'm sorted!
  4. Hairyfoot Simpleton

    Hairyfoot Simpleton New Member

    I'd argue it's impossible not to. I like looking into some strange weather phenomenon so I can later build it into the mythology.
    You can do bad research and get away with it, but I'd encourage not to (even though I'm guilty of it myself). It's a lot more fun if you know what's going on and your characters don't rather than the other way around. As to how to do proper research, I'd say just genuinely show interest, talk to someone who knows their stuff, or listen to a lecture about the subject online. Even just a quick google search can show you a big part of the picture.
  5. MrBrightsider

    MrBrightsider Scribe

    Absolutely. History. All the time. What did buildings look like in the 900s? How many sets of clothes did a peasant have? How did their toilets work? How can I take something that was miserable in history and use magic to make it less gross.

    I'm with Hairyfoot: it's impossible not to use non-fiction sources. Technically speaking, everything we dream up has at least some basis in reality, right?
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I'm hard-pressed to imagine how I would use fictional resources for world building. I turn to fiction to study the craft of writing, but not for world-building.

    My Altearth, though, is an exception to my own failure of imagination above. I have turned to fictional accounts. More often, I have turned to bad history. That probably needs a bit of explanation.

    Altearth is an alternate history Earth, so naturally I use plenty of real history in it. But I also turn to legends and myths and such-like (that's where I got the material for my short story, The Carrotfinger Man). But bad history is the real gold mine.

    Modern historians are careful, thorough, and heavily vetted by their peers. There's also a great deal of emphasis on analysis and explication. Older historians--especially prior to WWI--were much more likely to be uncritical of their sources, and tended far more readily to narrative. They liked to tell good stories, and the worst of them loved the picaresque. It's the Sir Walter Scott school of history. It's a terrible place to turn for learning what happened in the past, but it is a *great* place to go for anecdotes and colorful details. IOW, it's a great source for writers.

    For example, if you want to learn about Emperor Frederick II (my next book; purely coincidental <g>), read the biography by David Abulafia. But if you want to write an alternate history of ol' Fritz, then read Ernst Kantorowicz. Better yet, read the anti-imperial propaganda coming out of the 13thc papacy. That's where you'll learn how the young boy wandered the streets of Palermo living off handouts. Or how he was tutored by a magician who taught him the secrets of the East. But you really do have to turn to the older histories to get those jewels. You have to wade through endless pages of truly dreadful and boring writing, but ya gotta dig a ton o' dirt ta get ta the gold. In case any other inhabitant of Earth cares, the Internet Archive has lots of those old histories.
  7. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

    When world building, do you often use non-fiction sources? If so, what types of sources do you turn to?

    In my work in progress the technology etc is the 1920s and 1930s so there is a lot of information about it. Movies, news reels, books and photo essays from that time can still be found which is often useful for learning things like fashion, interiors, architecture, consumer goods and modes of transportation. They're also good for getting an idea of what people and regimes were stating at the time the events were happening. Some more modern history books about the time period is useful.

    To be blunt the Internet is useless for the most part because the search results mostly produce results focussed on the Nazis, the Japanese invasion of China and other military and political stuff from that time. Much of that is useless. I need to know things like if police had flashlights in 1934 and what they looked like. How did they carry them? Were they used for whacking people as well? I don't need to know if Nazi uniforms were made by Hugo Boss.

    One of the most useful things I have is a 1934 German encyclopedia that is useful because it shows how things worked and it has illustrations of contemporary things like buses, motorcycles etc.
  8. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Archmage

    Always doing it with history sources and stuff. Otherwise I can make things up in my own head without needing to fact check in a book or something.
  9. D. Gray Warrior

    D. Gray Warrior Troubadour

    I use non-fiction sources primarily for combat, warfare and politics. I want to portray those aspects as realistically as I can, so no swords slicing through plate armor like butter and killing the wearer.
  10. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Troubadour

    Yes, always, but I adapt what I learn to suit my world. I've read books on geology, and read a paper on electronic engineering, and then adapted what I learnt for parts of my world building. I've also read about astronomy, naval ships, and much more.
  11. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

    A little too late for my tastes, but I do have a 1922 Ward's catalogue. Fascinating read. For your time period, and I don't if you've used this resource or not, but one of the best is a good sized antiques mall. Period catalogues and encyclopedias are great, but picking up that old stuff and playing around with it can't be beat! Lots of clothing from that time period, small domestic articles, car parts, appliances, hardware & furnishings. You've got the best of all worlds for resources!

    * * *

    For me, in addition to the antique shops, I make use of old books: older histories (as was mentioned earlier, they tend to be a little freer with the facts and a little more narrative); catalogs; almanacs; handbooks of various kinds (like for stenographers & secretaries); old geography books; old maps in general; old astronomy books; the Diderot Encyclopedia; ancient newspapers; descriptions of country life and the "good old days"; travelogues; old household recipe and medical books; and the like.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2019
  12. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I've recommended the Internet Archive before. Here it is again. Take anything at all that strikes your curiosity and go to archive.org. Be sure to set aside the whole afternoon.

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