The best stories are ones in which the author can include things of which they are an expert, perhaps even experienced firsthand, but often you still need to research a subject. Even a few brief mentions in an action scene can allude to hours of web-searching and history lessons. To give a taste of this, I’m quoting a brief part of an action scene from one of my books; then, we’ll look at some of the details in the scene and how it related to studies and research. Looking into “The Earthrin Stones, book 2: Trials of Faith”, chapter 9 is called “The Chase.” Even for a fantasy scene, I think it has all the great running/chase action of the 70s movies I grew up watching, minus the bass guitar and hi hat drum sounds.
(Speaking of which, check out this YouTube video for a short sample of such hi hat drum beats, and a ridiculously weird “First to post this…” game going on in the comments.)
Anyways, allow me to share a piece of the book’s action scene here, and then dive a bit behind-the-scenes.
The male told his female companion, “I wonder what that was about.
The female giggled, “I didn’t know anyone could climb those things so fast.”
Montanya turned to follow their gazes. A portion of Orlaun’s great aqueduct system loomed overhead. Since the long years of the Godswars, Orlaun had been able to repair and sustain an existing aqueduct despite damage during the dark years following the Covenant. One of those sections that supplied endless fresh water to the city crossed above the street, supported by an arch. As soon as she looked at it, Montanya noticed this section had iron rungs set into the stone for access to the top. Many sections of the waterway were covered over, yet accessible to city officials or the local praetorians. A series of walkways, often called “birdwalks”, ran along the upper edges of the aqueducts.
Montanya started hauling herself hand over hand up the set of rungs. The soft leather soles made the bars uncomfortable on her feet, but she endured it. Montanya reached the walkway at the top and pulled herself up next to the covered basin housing the running water. She could hear the flow rushing along the length of the system. At a few spots along the side of the system were spigots. Montanya had never been on the aqueduct to see them, but she knew they offered access for the purpose of fighting fires. Looking down, she realized her perch stood at least thirty feet up, possibly even forty. Since the people of Orlaun valued the water pressure from the aqueduct system, most buildings weren’t built higher than where Montanya perched. There were many exceptions from nobles wanting to build to impressive heights. For the chiaso, her view was high enough for discomfort. Just thinking of what would happen if one lost their footing and slipped over the edge brought on a wave of light-headedness.
Casting aside her fears, she looked down the length of the birdwalk to see if her hunch paid off. She spotted the halfling just a short way down the length of the aqueduct, hurrying along. Montanya had trained hard to keep good balance. She got to her feet on the birdwalk and broke into a run. Her angry mood would have matched her red hair; she aimed to claim blood. Kemora looked back as she heard noise. The halfling’s jaw dropped as her amazed eyes spotted the resilient human continuing the chase. Soft leather whisked across the masonry as the chiaso moved. Kemora started running as well. Agility and speed benefited both women, but Kemora could not outpace Montanya’s long legs.
Kemora pulled to a stop at a point where the roof of a building came relatively close to the level of the aqueduct. A good drop loomed below, but it left an escape option open. Montanya never slowed as she approached the domid. The rogue’s sword flashed in the open. Calling upon her martial disciplines, Montanya took advantage of her small opponent by launching into a flying kick. Kemora tried to duck the assault. The kick missed, allowing Kemora to sweep the sword behind her. After Montanya landed, on the far side of the halfling, she followed it with a balanced roll. The chiaso effortlessly hopped to a fighting stance as Kemora came in low. The domid fought in a crouch, trying to sever the human’s feet. Montanya moved her legs fast as Kemora’s sword scratched the limestone slabs covering the aqueduct.
Even to get to the above scene, a lot of development and backstory went into the setting and the characters. A number of those items were briefly mentioned here. Time to examine them.
The biggest researched item in this section is the great aqueduct system of the Dhea Loral city, Orlaun. Orlaun takes a lot of influence from the Roman empire. One of the big achievements and luxuries they enjoyed included aqueduct systems bringing in water from great distances. Of course, suspended in an aqueduct, it also had the bonus of pressure delivering it to the city below. I remember researching the system and its benefits, then molding many aspects of my fantasy city’s life around it. The height of the aqueduct affects the height of many buildings in Orlaun, in over to utilize the water properly. In this scene, I had found out that limestone blocks covered parts of the Roman aqueducts, (after researching materials for construction.) In the scene, Kemora’s sword nicks one of these slabs. The use of the aqueduct for firefighting also made Orlaun the perfect city in which to base my later book, “Apprentice Storm Mage.” I think even the term “birdwalk” was borrowed from some old source. It seemed appropriate that birds of the city would flock to, and poop, on the elevated system.
Orlaun’s similarity to ancient Rome also gave me inspiration for the local guard force, the praetorians. The praetorians take the part of both police and firefighters in this setting, much the same as they did in Earth history. It is another example of fantasy drawing from history, and I did spend hours reading about all of this. Sadly, many details of this setup that combine and make sense are generally invisible to the reader…but these researched subjects laid the foundation. Due to the Roman/Italian influence, there is a scene elsewhere in the book in which an arriving character gets to sample pasta for the first time.
Also, one might notice that halflings are also called “domids” in my world. “Halfling” is understandable human slang, but no race would call itself a name based on how they measured up to others. The dwarves come too close to that concept as it is. It was only appropriate, as I also drew on influence from other books, that they needed their own name in order to generate a stronger cultural feel. Halflings call themselves domids, and they try to politely ignore the human insult term, “halflings.” Previous to this portion of the action scene, Kemora used a bolo to trip up and take down an opponent. I had made the decision that such a weapon should be developed by domids to help take down larger opponents.
Many things a writer researches can’t be laid out for the reader without boring them in details. I think the research is worth it, due to the tangible feelings that everything “feels” true and then the fantasy becomes more real.
My fans will hopefully feel that underlying realism when “Pilgrims with Blades: A02 Grandfather’s Castle”, comes out. The small village community of Crowtree comes alive with its own flavor. The roots of that flavor were anchored in my research on maple syrup, such as the maple tree in my yard, and how syrup was used back then for sweets. It also gave me a reason to make sure they have a cornfield, since cornbread and syrup also mixed well in those old days.