Monday, July 19, 2010

What School Left Out

I recently let my friend and classmate Megan read Arylle in trade for getting to see some of her writing.  Her feedback was very positive, but she pointed out one particular aspect of the story that struck her as highly unrealistic.  It turns out, I can't write horses.

Yes, my horses do not behave at all as real horses do.  An equestrian since the age of ten, Megan highlighted these portions of the story and said that they pulled her out of the plot.

So of all the possible things to have wrong with a story, my biggest problem according to her is... horses.

It brought up a very important issue though: as writers, and especially fantasy writers, we are constantly dealing with subjects that we might not be at all familiar with.

The only times I've ever ridden horses were around a short circular track at the local amusement park when I was a child.  An attendant walked ahead, holding the reins.  I gripped onto the saddle and pat the horse's neck.  This hardly qualifies me as an expert.  And yet, in many classical-style fantasies (Arylle being no exception), the characters' primary mode of transportation is on horseback.

I was discussing this topic with Erica last week and we came up with a short list of other common subjects in fantasy novels that most of us know nothing about.  It is the following:

-Swords.  I've held a sword once, during a fencing class in P.E.  Actually, do fencing blades (they're called rapiers, right?) even count as proper swords?  Anyway, I jabbed it around a bit and learned some stances and then the bell rang and that was that.  And yet almost all fantasy novels will involve a sword, or a swordfight, at some point.  Saying, "She jabbed her sword around a bit and made a stance," doesn't exactly sound professional, does it?

-Battles. Even worse than one sword is ten million of them.  Factor in the endless strategies, the political macinations, and maybe even a little plot and... well, it's probably going to be ridiculous.

-Geography.  I'm always tempted to make my countries square-shaped.  In a square-shaped realm.  With maybe one river that runs neatly through each country, a mountain range, a forest, northern wastelands (because that's just how it is), and either a southern desert or a southern tropical paradise.  Cause that's just how it is.  Do real countries work this way?  I don't think so.

-Currency.  Yeah, I don't even know.

-Clothes.  I can hardly dress myself, let alone a fictional culture.  I'm not very well-versed in fabrics, so my characters tend to wear linen or wool, with little variety.  Erica suggested some satin or velvet, but I would think those are for richer people only.  Maybe I should just make up my own fabric?  But that would just be even more ridiculous.

Some of these subjects could be remedied with good old-fashioned research, sure.  History books will teach me about how battles usually go.  Fashion websites can educate me on how to dress myself.  I mean, how to dress my characters.  But can anything really replace experience?  I think the best way to learn to write a battle is to fight in one.  The best way to write realistic horses is to ride and care for them, like Megan does.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that someone should offer classes for writers on all of these things, because I am severely lacking.



Steven Sylva-aRT said...

Don't feel bad; I couldn't even draw horses for the longest time when I used to do a lot of fantasy art!

As writers, we do need to do our research and therefore ask ourselves what about our story do we need to know more of. I'm just finding this out more than ever with my stories.


Erica said...

lol severely lacking knowledge. It all seems so simple when you're reading someone else's book.

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