Yesterday I brought up the necessity of doing research for fantasy novels. So the question then arises: If you’re making up everything including the world and the cultures that people it, where do you go for research and what do you do research on?
Well, if you’re doing high fantasy or sword-and-sorcery or anything set in a pre-industrial world, then you need to do some reading on pre-industrial societies in general. The easy way out is to take one particular society and base yours on that one, with perhaps a certain amount of cosmetic removal of the obvious serial numbers. But as Murphy’s Laws of Combat remind us, “The easy way is always mined.” In this case, the minefield is labeled “cultural appropriation”, and you want to avoid it — even if you don’t care about the ethical issues involved, it’s still bad art. Better in the long run to do enough reading and research that you’re able to make stuff up without having to steal things in wholesale lots.
(If you’re writing historical fantasy, or alternate-historical fantasy, or steampunk, the sort of stuff you’ll need to research is different, but the need for it doesn’t go away. At various times I’ve found myself looking up Victorian underwear, Renaissance typographers, and the name of the train line running from Portsmouth to London in 1863 . . . all for the same book.)
If you’re interested in some starting points for fantasy research, you can find a list of suggestions here.