I write science fiction and fantasy; I love fresh settings and new worlds. But I’ve learned that sometimes the most interesting details to include in a story are those closest to home.
Flash back two years ago. I was busy outlining a novel. I’d pinned down a few things about the characters and the magic, but I was bleeding for a geography. I read up on the Inca Empire and their supply lines. People lived by the bridges to maintain them. Nifty! I’d draw from the Andes for my setting, and there could be battles on bridges.
Then I read the back cover for an upcoming book of a favorite author. It mentioned “bridgemen.” I groaned. I sulked. But I didn’t want to echo another author so closely (Ironically, I later read the book and learned his bridgemen were nothing like the ones I’d researched).
At the time, I was driving from Idaho to California for a wedding. The scenery was something I’d seen a thousand times before: sagebrush and mountains, beautiful in its own way.
Why didn’t I just set my story here? Idaho was familiar to me, but I’d never seen anything like Idaho in an epic fantasy book.
I still did a bucket of research, but thanks to a lifetime in Idaho and some gold stars in the fourth grade, I already had a solid foundation. I let my magic system rest on star garnets, largely unique to Idaho. Since geothermal heat is a valuable resource here, I created communities centered on magically-dug hot springs, which they utilized for cooking. Steamed buns became a dietary staple. Mmm. Idaho colored the story with a thousand other small, unique details.
I don’t know that readers would notice that I drew heavily from my home setting. The book’s populated by fictitious nations, shaped by the influence of magic, after all. But because I know Idaho, I like to think they’ll be able to smell the sagebrush.
Sometimes, what a story needs is a tidbit I know nothing about. Sometimes, I spend too much time on Youtube learning how an archer wears a thumb ring or how to make charcoal.
And other times, everything I need is right at home.
M.K. Hutchins studied archaeology at BYU, which gave her the opportunity to compile ancient Maya genealogies, excavate in Belize, and work as a faunal analyst. She blogs about books, board games, and fiction-inspired recipes at www.mkhutchins.com. Her fiction has previously appeared in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show and Daily Science Fiction.