Fantasy Research: How much do you need?

MTaraCrowl

Guest Post Contributor: Author, M. Tara Crowl

Everyone knows what a genie is, right? The basics, anyway: magical being, oil lamp, three wishes. But when I started writing a middle grade novel about a twelve-year-old genie who wants to be a regular girl, I realized very quickly that there were lots of things I didn’t know about genies. Where did they come from? Did they live in the lamp alone? How did they know what to do? Was one genie in the lamp forever, or were there different ones? Did one lamp circulate Earth, or were there several?

So I started to research. From One Thousand and One Nights to I Dream of Jeannie to Disney’s Aladdin, there are tons of sources to choose from. Before long, I was lost in the origins of the genie myth. And that’s when it hit me: this stuff is make-believe! All of it was imagined by someone. Why not me? That’s when I gave myself permission to make up my own answers.

When you’re writing about familiar fantasy tropes, a little research can be valuable. However, it’s easy to get bogged down. If you’re like me, you might even start to be afraid that you’ll do it wrong. That’s why it’s crucial to remember that even if you’re working with fantasy elements, your objective is still to give readers an engaging story with characters they can connect with. Every other element is a tool to help achieve that.

So I started to focus on making my protagonist, Eden, the realest twelve-year-old girl I could possibly create. Naturally, that required drawing upon my own experiences. For instance: when I was twelve, I wanted to explore and discover new things. I couldn’t wait to be 18, because then I’d be grown up and allowed to do anything I wanted. So for Eden, I made up a system in which each genie is required to grant 999 wishes before she can retire and leave the lamp. In this fantasy parallel to my own world, Eden is as eager to get through her wishes as I was to get through school.

The masters of Eden’s lamp were designed the same way. When I was Eden’s age, my parents were my providers, caretakers, and role models—but they also stood between me and the freedom I thought I was ready for. So I created parental figures for Eden in the form of Xavier and Goldie, the masters of her lamp. They clothe her, feed her, and give her lessons in the lamp, but they also enforce the lamp’s rules, punish her when she disobeys, and warn her about dangers on Earth.

And so forth. Anything from my genie research that would make my story more fun and engaging, I used. Anything that didn’t, I replaced with something different. Once I gave myself the authority to make the genie myth my own, my story came to life—and writing it became a lot more fun.

About M. Tara Crowl:  Tara’s Eden of the Lamp series is published by Disney-Hyperion. Her latest release, EDEN’S ESCAPE, was released on September 6 and is available to buy here. Ms. Crowl grew up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. She studied Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, then received an MA in Creative Writing at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. She lives in New York City.

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About Eden’s Escape: 

Eden's Escape by M. Tara Crowl

Eden’s new life on earth begins in New York City under the guidance of her new guardian: Pepper, a petite, bubbly genie alum who’s also a Broadway actress. Before she has a chance to settle in, though, Eden is whisked away for a granting–only to find herself trapped in a laboratory. David Brightly, owner of the world’s leading tech company, cares more about tapping into the lamp’s power than making a wish and starts performing tests on Eden. With Brightly’s plasma shield around the lamp, Eden has no way home. Left without a choice, she escapes the lab and goes on the run. After her daring exit, Eden finds herself on the streets of Paris–home to Electra’s headquarters. Left in a strange city with a price on her head (courtesy of scheming Brightly), Eden has to keep her wits about her. She dons a chic disguise and flits around Paris incognito, investigating Brightly Tech. Assisted by Pepper and her old adversary Bola, as well as some new friends, Eden embarks on a quest to retrieve the lamp and protect the secrets of the genie legacy.

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