Setting Research: Where Do I Even Start?

I’ve known since early on in the first draft of Featherfolk that the setting wasn’t…well…settled. I covered the mountains with familiar plants and animals because that was the easiest thing, but I knew I wanted to give it a more exotic feel. The only problem with exotic locations and cultures is that I know next to nothing about them. Hence, exotic.

Ever since I hit on the Andes Mountains and the Incas as a possibility for re-flavoring the world, I’ve been checking out stacks of books from the library, searching for documentaries, and scrolling through pages and pages of Google images, just to try and get a taste of the history and culture and climate and flora of such a place.

If I base the Featherfolk on another culture, I want to know more than just the tropes. Shallow knowledge would result in parody, which I feel would be disrespectful to that culture and its living descendants.

It’s quite overwhelming. How do you immerse yourself in a culture long dead, on another continent in another hemisphere, whose languages were not at all related to your own?

How do you start?


4 thoughts on “Setting Research: Where Do I Even Start?

  1. This is the same problem I’ve had in creating the world for “Sarimanok Feather” and the other stories set in the Asian Pacific. I’ve spent a lot of time on Wikipedia and google asking the basic questions: what did they eat? What did they wear? Sometimes I come across serendipitous bits of information – such as an article in the Seattle Times about sea nomads in Indonesia which gave me the detail of the wooden goggles.

    And since its a secondary world, I’ve felt free to make up bits such as religion, and racial relations. One thing I’ve tried to keep in mind as I write though, is that while parody isn’t a good thing, focusing on the differences so much that it becomes exotifying is also offensive. So as I write, I try to keep the tone of “this stuff is everyday for my characters”

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