Saturday, June 4, 2011

World-Building Tip: Daily Life In...

I was listening to the Writing Excuses podcast on non-traditional settings at the gym the other night and they brought in author Saladin Ahmed, an Arab fantasy writer who writes stories set in a fantasy version of the Middle East (the main example being Throne of the Crescent Moon), not the standard fantasy version of medieval Europe that most high fantasy or epic fantasy stories are set in.

Saladin discussed world-building with the hosts and one thing he said had been very helpful to him was a series of books entitled Daily Life In... that dealt with different historical eras.  I made a note to myself to find these books and then forgot about it until this morning.

I just requested several books from my local library system, including Daily Life in Civil War America and Daily Life in Victorian England, which are part of a series on daily life in different historical periods.  Given how Andrew Sutter's environment is more like the Civil War U.S. or the Western frontier, books on that topic will be appropriate, while Grendel's capital of Norridge and the advanced civilizations Andrew will encounter in the later books after he crosses the Iron Desert are steampunk and therefore books on Victorian England will be appropriate.

It might even be a good idea to buy some of these books, although the actual Greenwood Press Daily Life series does not appear to have had a large print run and the average price of these books is $30+.  Still, if I was willing to shell out $50 for the BattleTech codex Clans: Warriors of Kerensky for research purposes (and at some point I need to write some more BattleTech fiction, since I got paid $196 for my story "Skirmish at the Vale's Edge"), these books might be worthy investments.

Luckily the local public library has a lot of them, so I can just request them whenever I need them.  For those of you who have access to good public libraries and are interested in improving your world-building, I'd check these out.

In addition to books dealing with daily life in the time period you're interested in writing about, primary sources from that time would also be a good idea.  I also requested The Civil War Notebook of Daniel Chisholm: A Chronicle of Daily Life in the Union Army 1864 to research what life in a more organized army would be like--it will be useful to improve the Merrill-army sections of Battle for the Wastelands and will be especially useful in the later books of the series where we see Grendel commanding troops in the field and Andrew rising through the ranks of another army. 

Bernard Cornwell based a lot of the Sharpe novels on The Recollections of Rifleman Harris, the memoir of an enlisted man in the British Army of the Napoleonic Wars.  I might try to get hold of that one as well--even though the technology in the world of Wastelands is around 50-60 years ahead of the Napoleonic Era, the two Sharpe books I have read (Sharpe's Tiger and Sharpe's Triumph) provided me with lots of useful bits of information, including stuff on the use of bulls for transporting heavy goods and how Napoleonic-era armies actually had smoke-bombs for infantry use (to mask advances under fire).

I hope you all find this useful.


  1. Very useful information; I listened to the podcast as well, but I don't think I caught this particular part. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Thanks for the comments. I hope it proves useful to you.

  3. I might have to check those out. I remember the episode, but didn't make note of the book series.

    Not sure how my urban fantasy novel will benefit, though. "Life in Atlanta Where Magic Works" is PROBABLY not available from the Gwinnett Library system. :)

  4. Well, if you wanted to write a prequel set in the 1960s or during WWII, there's a book called "Daily Life in America from the 1940s through 1960s" or something like that the Fulton system has.