Leigh Bardugo’s SIEGE AND STORM Blog Tour Stop #12

On Leigh Bardugo‘s twelfth stop in her blog tour, she goes into detail about the power of research and the whole worldbuilding thing when coming to expanding the world of Ravka.

I have a love-hate relationship with research. When it comes to folk and fairytales, a well written history, or just about anything involving food, I can spend hours getting blissfully lost. While writing Shadow and Bone, I would spend the day reading, highlighting passages and taking notes as I went. Then I’d go back and turn those notes into lists: Food and holidays, names and language, religion and mythology, flora and fauna, clothing and customs. I enjoyed just about every minute of it. This is my favorite mode of research—I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, I’m just looking.

But deadlines make that kind of browse-and-meander approach a luxury, and it gets even tougher when I know I need something specific for a particular scene or beat. Sometimes it’s an easy find. When Mal and Alina were hunting the stag in Tsibeya, I was looking for ways to bring the tundra to life around them and “fire lichen” practically jumped out of one of my field guides. But around the same place in the story, Mal points out a bird’s nest to Alina. It took me hours to decide which type of bird it should be. I needed to put the right bird on it: one that nested in trees and that could conceivably survive in this habitat. I also wanted the name to have beauty to it. I chose “sparrowhawk” and it was only later that a reader pointed out the connection to one of Ursula Le Guin’s characters from her Earthsea series. I still wonder if memories of him were floating around in my subconscious and guiding that small choice.


When it came to Siege and Storm, I had to get into nautical research: schooners, whalers, privateering. Not surprisingly the research into privateers (essentially pirates with a license) was the most fun. I love reading about the American Revolution so I started with Patriot Pirates and George Washington’s Secret Navy.  Pirates & Patriots of the Revolution: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Colonial Seamanship was invaluable because of the clear diagrams of sails and knots, and the illustrations of everything from a ditty bag to a battle whistle.

Fiction was a great resource too—Moby Dick and particularly the Bloody Jack series. The latter was recommended during a fantastic panel at WorldCon back in 2011, and this brings me to the important point that books and articles don’t have to be your only resources when it comes to building a world. There are a lot of conventions out there that are geared towards writers. At that WorldCon alone, I attended panels on pirates and privateers, language building, and a talk by the absurdly charming and generally amazing Taylor Anderson on Victorian warfare. At a George R.R. Martin signing in Los Angeles, I met Davey Krieger, a fellow fan who happens to be a full-fledged pirate expert and who let me pick his brain when it came to logistics like moving between decks and boarding an enemy ship.

I’m also lucky in the fact that I seem to know a lot of smartypants people who know even more smartypants people. There’s a particular sea-going craft that appears in Siege and Storm that presented some engineering problems. So I took to Facebook with the request: I need to talk to someone with experience in… Well, I can’t tell you the specifics because it would amount to a spoiler. But I can say that, when it comes to world building, there seem to be two kinds of scientists:

Type 1.

Me: I have this idea—

Scientist: Impossible.

Me: But in my world—

Scientist: Impossible. (chortle) That’s just impossible. Let me tell you all the reasons why it’s impossible.


Type 2

Me: I have this idea—

Scientist: You mean like X?

Me: More like Y.

Scientist: Ooh, this reminds me of this and that and also this! Let me draw you some sketches!

Curiously enough, Type 1 scientists tend to bust out with things like, “Well, can’t you just magic something up?” Believe me, there are times I wish I could. But I think magic feels more real when it has limitations and the magical system I created for the Grisha Trilogy is bound by certain constraints for that very reason.

Not surprisingly, Type 2 scientists tend to be fans of gaming and speculative fiction. They seem to understand the balance of fact and fiction, and the pleasure of bending the rules without actually breaking them. I suspect they’re also more fun at parties.

With research, I use only a small fraction of everything I encounter, but I never know where another story idea might come from or what I might end up using in the future. I think the best thing you can do is keep all of the doors open, take notes, and remember that inspiration can come from anywhere. When I was around ten, I went on a class trip and we got to tour a tall ship. The guide handed around an onion and made each of us take a bite to demonstrate one of the ways sailors tried to prevent scurvy when there was no fresh citrus to be had at sea. I never forgot the taste of that onion, and many years later, that little detail wormed its way into the prologue of Siege and Storm.

(via twelfth blog tour stop: Birth of a New Witch)

By Kait

Kait is a New Englander, a YA book and adaptation lover, and a Slythindor, as well as a red velvet and red wine enthusiast. She likes to like things. Catch her on Twitter: @kaitmary