Writing Historical Fantasy by A.F. Stewart

A.F. Stewart is the author of the vampire novella, ‘Chronicles of the Undead’, as well as a dogged writer of speculative short fiction and poetry.

I write fantasy stories, tales filled with the familiar characters of wizards, ghosts, werewolves, vampires and other beasties born in folklore and myth. Now sometimes I plunk these legends in modern settings, but my favourite thing is to leave the creatures where they originated, in history.

To me, there is a certain mystic to a historical fantasy, panache if you will. A good fantasy story set in history should breathe the atmosphere of the time period and wrap it around its characters, human and mythical. The reader should feel like they are there walking the streets, inhaling the air.

Of course, effort has to go into achieving this goal, the main labour being meticulous research, most of which may never make its way into the pages of your manuscript. I pore through books and scan websites to understand whatever historical setting I’m using. I collect facts as I go, some that I use, while others simply allow a better insight into the time, or myth, I’m recreating.

Once you’ve done the research, you have to apply it. One of the trickier tasks is getting the dialogue right, and strangely enough that doesn’t necessarily mean accurate. Writing dialogue for historical fantasy is more a matter of perception than of precision. You need to write conversation that feels like it belongs in your setting rather than period exact words (although, you should always double-check your word origins to stave off the nitpickers). And never let historic characters use modern terms or slang, ever!

Character behaviour is the other important point that requires attention to details. People acted differently in past ages, they had different values, different rules of society. Have a character act like he or she is living in 2011 and you will quickly pull a reader out of the fictional world you are weaving. Now obviously, fantasy creatures get more flexibility in conduct, but even they must be constrained by historical rules. Always have your characters act within the confines of their culture, or have a very good reason for their misbehaviour.

The key to writing convincing historical fantasy is staying in the era, with detail and atmosphere, no matter what strange and odd individuals flitter onto your pages.


4 thoughts on “Writing Historical Fantasy by A.F. Stewart

  1. Great post. It was your headline that grabbed my attention as I was like “Historical Fantasy” I need to read this. Glad I did and I totally agree though I'll admit it is hard to this properly.

  2. This is a great article. The thing that I might add, though, is clothing. It is important to research clothing styles particular to a period in history and to know exactly the kinds of clothes they wore, the fabrics they used before writing a historical piece.

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