Monday, August 31, 2015

Ian S. Bott on Researching the Unknown

Hi all! Today I have the pleasure of hosting one of my very talented Crit Partners, Ian S. Bott, as part of his blog tour.

Having read Tiamat's Nest as a critique partner, I can tell you now that those who buy the book are in for a wild ride. One of the best things about the story is the feeling that, although we're dealing with events and technology that is still beyond our reality, they were written in a what that makes them feel real.

And today, Ian's going to tell us about researching for Speculative Fiction.

Before we start, though, I just want to mention that Shell Flower interviewed me on her blog today.

Okay, Ian, take it from here.

Researching the Unknown

When you write fiction set in the real world, the need for research is obvious. You’re writing about places and things that a lot of your readers already know about, and you need to be credible enough to keep those readers along for the ride.

One of the great joys of speculative fiction is that you get to make things up. Nobody can argue that you can’t possibly see the mountains of Mordor from Minas Tirith, because nobody’s been there!

So, when your whole world is invented, where is the need for research?

Well, no matter how far out your speculative ideas, readers need your world to have some foundations they can relate to. Even the most fantastical of worlds inevitably has considerable overlap with our familiar world.

If you’re writing medieval fantasy, for example, you can bet many of your readers will know their pikes from their halberds, so you’d better know too! That means research.

OK, maybe you’re into far-future sci-fi instead, with biology and technology that has no earthly counterparts. Surely that’s safe? Well, what about the (eminently fashionable indicators of a non-Earth setting) twin moons you’ve placed in the sky which always seem to rise and set together in defiance of orbital periods? You may not be aware of the gaffe, but your target audience may not be forgiving.

One of the challenges of speculative fiction is knowing what you don’t know. When you write a real-world setting you are usually aware of your boundaries. Never been to New York, or worked in a hospital, or erected a circus big top? Well, you know what you have to read up about. But assembling a world from scratch with credible seasons and ecology? Most likely you’re going to write what you’ve decided you need for the story without much thought to what laws of nature you’ve trampled along the way.

The strangest thing about sci-fi is that people happily accept blatant present-day impossibilities, like FTL travel or artificial gravity fields, without so much as a blink of an eye, but they get picky about smaller things. It's relatively easy to get away with big bold lies, but the closer you get to some version of recognizable reality the more demanding people get.

Like trying to plan the perfect murder, it's the little details that'll trip you up.

For my latest novel, Tiamat’s Nest, I’ve researched things like the topography of Greenland under all that ice, the temperature of magma and melting point of aluminum, driving snowmobiles across open water, and how far you have to run to survive a small nuclear explosion.

What cool things have you researched for your work?

Tiamat’s Nest

The virtual world comes alive and reaches out into the real world with deadly results. University professor and devout technophobe, Charles Hawthorne, confronts technology full on to end the hidden threat to humanity.

Available on Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo.

Find out more about the author on his website:


  1. Congratulations to Ian! Researching is one of my favorite things about being a writer. I recently researching the acreage of Alaskan farms, honeybees, and cannibalism. :)

  2. ^ Well I'm glad I wasn't the only one that researched cannibalism. I had to learn what human meat tastes like. Answer: a very sickly sweet beef that makes people throw up (usually) upon first taste. I've also had to learn about decapitation, disembowelment, building bombs... I'm sure the NSA has its own special file on us both.

  3. Ian has some really good points about what readers will accept and what will be caught by those paying attention. Sticking to certain rules of physics is definitely important. This book is definitely rising on my TBR list!

    Thanks for letting me interview you, Misha!

  4. The closer you get to some version of recognizable reality the more demanding people get - that's the truth! Even some of the far-out stuff has to make sense.

  5. Thanks for letting me hijack your blog today, Misha!

    Christine - cannibalism? That's cool! Hope that didn't spoil your appetite :)

    A Beer for the Shower - I sometimes wonder what alarm bells I set off during my online wanderings *Checks road outside for parked cars*

    Shell - Readers are fickle creatures, aren't they?

    Alex - I'm often amazed at what people will swallow...and what they won't.

  6. Great post! I think most sf readers are willing to make that leap of faith - but we do want the rules of the new world to be consistent :)

    The research is always fun too - I've done some snowmobile research too :)

  7. Excellent tips! I agree that although you can make up many elements of a fantasy world, research is still CRUCIAL because most fantasies are based off of time periods in our world. I love the research part!

  8. It's fun to get creative and make things up. I don't do it much, because I write non-fiction, and never anything too zany. It's kinda ironic how one needs be an expert to fake it. Smiles.

  9. Congrats to Ian! Research can definitely be fun.

  10. The beauty about specfic is that you are able to to boldly go to far fetched places, but you are so right that readers will not suspend their disbelief if the total lack of research shows in writing.

    Congrats Ian!

  11. Jemi - consistency is key, both within the story and in the obvious overlaps with the known world. Did you know that snowmobiles can be driven on water? True, but risky!

    Julie - I wonder why real historical periods, especially medieval, are so prevalent.

    Robyn - ironic, innit? :)

    Kelly - I certainly had fun with my research!

    Angela - the biggest challenge is not only making sure lack of research doesn't show, but making sure the research itself is not obtrusive.

  12. Great tips! I really like researching. Creating an entire world from scratch has SO much you have to look into.. and little things that I realized would make it more believable: climate, topography, both of those in relation to the people and how they talk/think. It's a lot to think about and plan!

  13. I love writing stories that make me look into things I know nothing about. My search history is quite interesting as I'm sure yours is as well.

  14. Congratulations on the release of your book, Ian. Starting a world from scratch is always tricky, but I find it to be easier in a way. Wishing you the best.

  15. Cool insights into research. As a historical author, research is definitely key for me:)

  16. You never know whats out there second star to the left, is it alive? is it a lifeform? No probably not, just my imagination. Still I live and hope. Congratulations for putting your dream into words.

  17. I agree that it's often necessary for writers to do research, because the lack of research can affect the reader's belief or enjoyment in the story. If I know for a fact that something in the story is inaccurate, then that makes me question other aspects of the story as well.

  18. Madilyn - researching can be dangerously addictive, can't it?

    C.Lee - I sometimes wonder what a stranger would make of my search history!

    Murees - thanks

    Marc - if you're into the historical stuff you really do need to be on solid ground!

    Spacerguy - no harm in dreaming, is there?

    Neurotic - my point exactly!

  19. Sounds like an exciting read! Wishing you all the best with this.

    Hi, Misha;)

  20. Congratulations to Ian! Researching and making sure all information is correct is part of my job so this post resonates with me.

    All the best!

  21. Wonderful post. I have a horror middle grade coming out next year and it's speculative fiction. I had to research demons and exorcisms.

  22. Awesome thoughts. I think one of the most engaging books I ever read was based in Indian lore, and the author knew absolutely NOTHING Indian when she started writing. BUT, she established contacts and consultants who guided her through the process and gave her a very solid understanding. That's what made the story work.

    Research is key!

  23. Congrats to Ian! I know who Tiamet is from researching my first (unreleased) series. Researching is one of the funnest parts of writing for me.

  24. Congratulations to Ian, and thank you for hosting/introducing him to us. I really like the cover...

  25. Researching is so interesting. I am always amazed at the research I do that doesn't end up getting written, but helps me have a better idea of things. :) Great post! Thanks for sharing.

  26. Sandra - thanks!

    Nas - glad to have struck a chord.

    Medeia - demons and exorcisms sound like fun research :)

    Crystal - I think the passion and commitment to do that kind of research will always show through...

    M Pax - so, you've met Tiamat then ... and lived to tell the tale!

    Lisa - thanks re. the cover. The background is my own artwork.

    Jess - most research will stay firmly off stage, but it leaves its mark on the writing nonetheless.

  27. I always have fun when I'm researching! :D

    Congratulations to Ian!


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