You’d think, as a fantasy writer, plants would be the least of my concerns. I’d have thought maybe you were right. Knowledge of edible/healing plants should be kept to the survival guides; fantasy writers don’t need to know anything about it. At least, that’s what I thought.
The only problem is, when you’re writing a fantasy book where the setting pre-dates the medieval ages(or, even those novels where the setting is akin to medieval ages), your characters are fighting for survival, because of course medicines weren’t nearly as good as they are today.
So, I’m nearly done with Book 1. Truly, with any luck, I just have one more draft to go, and then maybe some minor changes after that when my beta readers take a look at it. And still, with the deadline approaching, I have not answered a vital question: What kind of plants live in my world? I’ve got oak trees and maple trees and pine trees, so I suppose that some of the plants are akin to what you’d find in our world. I’ve mentioned rosemary and thyme and a few other herbs for cooking. So I’ve definitely borrowed from our world.
But this is a world with magic, so surely there’d be some plants there that you wouldn’t find here on earth, barren as it is of magic. So I’ve been tempted to create a few plants of my own. The only downside is, I have no idea what they would or could look like, or what to call them. But, while it’d be a pain in my rear-end to come up with completely brand-new plants and names for them, it might make my life easier. My plants, my rules, right? Some of my characters keep dried herbs with their things for food or for healing. Well, I researched a plant called Anise, and decided it fit what I needed it for. Except, while double-checking my research, I discover that Anise does not do well if it’s dehydrated/dried out. Which means that all that research was for naught.
Anyway, the real question isn’t about plants. It’s about the world in general. How much of what’s in my world is based on earth? Most of the Great authors – J. R. R. Tolkein, Robert Jordan, even arguably George Martin – all have some resemblance to earth out of necessity. Fantasy worlds need to have some basis on reality, or it’ll be too hard to picture. So they might have trees, but trees that are not found on earth (and are similar in appearance to real trees, but maybe are of a different color). Or they might have horses, but they might make up new breeds of horses. That sort of thing. I’m not struggling with the idea of going all-out. That was never really an option. But how unique do I make my world? That’s the real question.
The good news is, I’ve finally gotten my act together and sent my writing partner an email to get her opinion on the subject. Until then, I’ll just ignore the whole Anise-doesn’t-do-well-dried-out statement, and fix it when needed after my writing partner gets back to me.
For the fantasy writers out there, have you gone all-out and created new plants & trees, or do you borrow from our good, green earth?