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  1. John Archer
    July 11, 2010 @ 4:27 pm

    Well said. One thing I would add, though – think carefully about whether you’re using real herbs or not. If your story is actually set in some fantasy version of Europe, then use real herbs native to the region. If it isn’t, make up your own.

    But use this rule of thumb – if you’re making up something wholecloth, it should always take more time and more effort than using a real world equivalent. That’s because you should be researching real herbs, including names, effects, characteristics, appearances, and side effects, and then developing your own with the same level of detail.


  2. Catherine Krahe
    July 12, 2010 @ 12:24 pm

    I think that many times, people make up herbs because they don’t want to research or don’t think they can find a plant with the appropriate poetic properties. It’s more apparent with large predators– it’s not enough for there to be badgers, wolverines, lynx (lynges?), cougars, wolves, coyotes, bears, and shrews about in your typical based-on-Europe Fantasyland Forest, there must also be a Special Scary Animal that is bigger, faster, stronger, and has more useful pointy bits.

    I roll my eyes as if I don’t do the exact same thing. I may have to atone by making my next Scary Beast 2.0 a moose or something.

    Actually, being specific about these things also helps the worldbuilding. Many readers, myself included, assume default Fantasyland and certain rules for SF, and if it’s not made clear from the beginning that this is not that default, I at least get a bit confused. If you’re specific about your herbs, you make it clear that the story’s actually set in South America or Australia.


  3. Sarah Brand
    July 12, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

    Not wanting to do research is probably a big factor, but I think a lack of confidence is also in there. Even with research, the more specific you are, the more likely it is that somehow, somewhere, you’re going to get something wrong. And no one wants to pick the wrong specific detail and look silly.

    Of course, it’s better to take that risk and have a vivid and interesting story, and it’s even better to do enough research that you feel comfortable putting those details in. (I really need to take my own advice on this point, but I’m only halfway through the first draft, so I’m not going to be too hard on myself right now.)


  4. Catherine Krahe
    July 13, 2010 @ 3:48 pm

    Sarah, I think that creating a beast out of research anxiety really only moves the potential for error around. You can make up a Beast 2.0 that does exactly what you want, but it’s still in an ecosystem, which means research to get that right.

    A lot of writing choices are like that. It’s not, “Doing X is fraught with peril, so do Y,” but, “Doing X badly is fraught with peril, so do it well. Or do Y well, because if you do Y badly that’s also fraught with peril.” Peril all round!


  5. Sarah Brand
    July 14, 2010 @ 6:34 am

    Oh, you’re quite right–a Beast 2.0 requires just as much research, if not more. I wasn’t thinking of writers who make things up out of whole cloth (sorry, should’ve been clearer), but rather the ones who leave everything very handwave-y and vague, and leave it up to the reader to fill in the many blanks. It feels safer, even though of course it’s not, really.


  6. Asuncion Norder
    April 13, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

    Hi there! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I really enjoy reading your posts. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics? Thanks for your time!


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