We often talk about the writers/stories who influenced our books, we’re forced to in fact- comp titles are a real and painful thing.
But even in fantasy there is so much else that we take into the worlds we build. While I’m firmly into second world fantasy and thus you could say I don’t have anything to “research,” there’s still a lot of background that goes into how a world is constructed.
I’m going to use myself as an example. My Pitch Wars book is a second-world fantasy that takes place in a society run by a church with a complicated history and questionable magic. I’ve always been fascinated by religious ritual (I went from Lutheran to Episcopalian because I needed more church in my church) and majored in art history with particular focuses on cathedral architecture and Gustave Moreau’s tortured visionary paintings, so dark theology was a natural starting point for me when it came to world development.
My own interests weren’t enough for me to build a complex world that felt real, but using them as a starting point meant that the background reading was really fun!
Here are a few of my favorite resources:
The Gnostic Bible.
The theology of my pitchwars book was heavily influenced by gnostic writing and the concept of the Monad and Demiurge, which attempted to reconcile the fact that God is almighty and good with the fact that evil exists in the world. The Gnostic Bible is a wonderful collection of very readable translations of some of the most important texts that I literally read for fun.
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way” is a powerful theme.
The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris Medicine used to be really scary, y’all.
I spend a ton of time commuting on trains that are crowded to the point that you can’t hold a book, so podcasts are an important part of my process, and I cannot deny that My Favorite Murder probably had a hand in my wanting to write about a serial killer.
More directly, I listened to a lot of Stuff You Missed in History.
I also looked at city and cathedral layouts, and found out that at least one medieval cathedral had a bowling alley.
My cathedral does not have a bowling alley because I am pretty sure it would give Ilan a headache, but anyone else, there’s your world building note for the day.
If you’re looking to make your fantasy world real, you have to immerse yourself in what is real. Societies don’t spring up from nothing. They come from something, and they’re going somewhere, and paying attention to the texture of history and how you can use it will make your worlds infinitely richer. But if you start with an area you’re already interested in, it’s not going to feel like work at all.