PDA

View Full Version : I'm thinking about historical fiction


SFFWorld.com
Home - Discussion Forums - News - Reviews - Interviews

New reviews, interviews and news

New in the Discussion Forum


Pages : [1] 2

TheGhost
August 2nd, 2007, 10:50 PM
Yeah, after writing two fantasy manuscripts and planning to write two more, I'm now thinking about launching another project that throws elves and monsters and magic in the trash can and concentrates on a specific time and place (and period) in human history. Sometime in Europe, 12th through 15th centuries, most likely. I have some specific ideas, but it's still evolving.

With that period in mind, is it strange that I sort of still consider it "fantasy," even though it's technically not? One of my favorite authors, Patrick O'Brian, had a wonderful career writing historical fiction. Anyone else have a taste for it or tried it?

MrBF1V3
August 3rd, 2007, 01:25 AM
I enjoy reading historical mysteries. Occasionally I will write something with a setting in the past, or something like the past, but I don't think to the extent you are talking about.

It sounds like it could be a lot of fun.

B5

Holbrook
August 3rd, 2007, 02:13 AM
It's fun, but hard work. My present WIP is a historical fiction/supernatural thriller and the research required has at times had me clawing the wall. To place fictional events/characters, even places, in among real ones is difficult to say the least.

Also you run the risk of every half-baked history buff jumping on your tail if you get things wrong lol!

choppy
August 3rd, 2007, 08:50 AM
I've written a novella set in the south pacific during WWII. I think the thing with historical fiction is that you have to enjoy the research almost as much as the writing. Personally, I think you can get away with a few minor errors (although I do try to avoid them). I suppose the amount of effort into getting the facts straight depends on how much the story is about the history, and how much is just set in a certain period.

Mock
August 3rd, 2007, 10:41 AM
It's fun, but hard work. My present WIP is a historical fiction/supernatural thriller and the research required has at times had me clawing the wall. To place fictional events/characters, even places, in among real ones is difficult to say the least.

Also you run the risk of every half-baked history buff jumping on your tail if you get things wrong lol!

Ah, but you are doing something about World War I, aren't you? That requires way more research than something in the Middle Ages, although research is necessary. But you can write something without doing much research and still get away with it, assuming your central character is fictional. There are a number of crap historical novels out there to prove my point. But as Holbrook says, watch out for the history buff! YOU CAN'T WRITE A NOVEL TAKING PLACE IN MODERN TIMES WITHOUT A TON OF RESEARCH.

A very important and frequently overlooked aspect is daily life. There are a number of books on this subject and the ones I have are easy reads.

Personally, I'm starting to prefer history over fantasy. I love history in general and study the ancient and medieval eras like crazy. Writing it sort of gives me that feeling that there's a slim chance that what I'm writing about really DID happen . . . Of course it didn't, but . . .

(At the moment I'm fidgeting with a very historical concept of mercenaries in the Hundred Years' War.:D)

Dazzlinkat
August 3rd, 2007, 04:00 PM
A very important and frequently overlooked aspect is daily life.

On a further note, check out the new Time-Life Series What Life Was Like ... it covers many different periods and places. Middle Ages, Egypt, Greece, Roman Empire, etc ...

TheGhost
August 3rd, 2007, 10:09 PM
(At the moment I'm fidgeting with a very historical concept of mercenaries in the Hundred Years' War.:D)

Hmmm, that's kind of what I was thinking about too, funnily. Have you read "A Distant Mirror" by Barbara Tuchman? I've only done a cursory reading of other things in the past few days; I find myself wanting to know more about the turmoil in Brittany during that time.

I'm reaching this point because I find myself wanting to remove the fantasy elements from the story arc I've been writing for the past few years. I'm going to remove the elves, remove the other creatures, and you know, I'm not really that interested in writing about magic. And when I remove all those things, hell, why not just write a story set in human history and start a new story arc?

Anyway, I'll ruminate on it some more. But I agree that I could get away with doing a little bit of research on the who and what and where, as long as I get the flavor of the period correct. I wouldn't want to write about actual figures. And if I ever reach the point where a history buff feels the need to seriously nitpick every line, well, I suppose I'd already be laughing all the way to the bank.

Mock
August 4th, 2007, 10:57 PM
Hmmm, that's kind of what I was thinking about too, funnily. Have you read "A Distant Mirror" by Barbara Tuchman? I've only done a cursory reading of other things in the past few days; I find myself wanting to know more about the turmoil in Brittany during that time.

I'm reaching this point because I find myself wanting to remove the fantasy elements from the story arc I've been writing for the past few years. I'm going to remove the elves, remove the other creatures, and you know, I'm not really that interested in writing about magic. And when I remove all those things, hell, why not just write a story set in human history and start a new story arc?

Anyway, I'll ruminate on it some more. But I agree that I could get away with doing a little bit of research on the who and what and where, as long as I get the flavor of the period correct. I wouldn't want to write about actual figures. And if I ever reach the point where a history buff feels the need to seriously nitpick every line, well, I suppose I'd already be laughing all the way to the bank.

LOL, you're shatting me, right? I was just reading about the havoc in Brittany myself. I haven't read Tuchman, but I might suggest Medieval Mercenaries if you have any further interest about the topic. It's more of an overview, giving you a feel for what mercenaries would've done done in war and post-war situations. It includes the Hundred Years' War, but really stretches from the Dark Ages through the Renaissance (including Machiavelli's principles).

My dad, an avid reader about science and now, to my delight, history, always says that our world and its history (nonfiction) is and always will be more interesting than fiction, and I second that. Welcome to Earth, TheGhost. :)

ironchef texmex
August 10th, 2007, 05:39 PM
With that period in mind, is it strange that I sort of still consider it "fantasy," even though it's technically not? One of my favorite authors, Patrick O'Brian, had a wonderful career writing historical fiction. Anyone else have a taste for it or tried it?


It depends on how your going to address the narration. You see, during the middle ages, people genuinely believed in the interaction of angels and demons in their daily lives, as well as fairies, werewolves (especially in France), vampires and the like. Astrology was imported along with spices from the crusades. The belief in the power of Hermetic magic and Kaballa were rampant. So, if you're going to approach the book from the stance of a modern "enlightened" narrative where everyone is gulled into believing a bunch of hoakum, then you might want to read some of Steven Lawhead's stuff if you haven't already. He leaves in a little of the angel/demon stuff for flavor, but mostly he gives a modern narration.


Of course, you could go the other way. At any point in your world building (rebuilding? it is after all, history) you could elect to take the side of the common man/woman of that era. So most people these days believe magic is nonsense. Maybe it is. The people of that era were certainly convinced and you could pick any one of those supernatural elements and place it into the story, probably with very little loss of realism. Just a thought. Brian Aldiss' Malacia Tapestry is in this vein. Also, Mark Halprin's Winter's tale takes place in Late 19th - early 20th century New York, but does a nice job of blending history with fantasy elements. Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel is heavily slanted toward fantasy, but still captures the time period (early 19th cen. Europe) and is still a fun read.

Oh, and to second Holbrook, if you want to do it right, it's a ton of work. I'm planning on writing a revisionist history that kicks off in 1572 (the year England enacted its vagrancy law). I've been studying the renaissance for years and I still don't feel like I really get it. Not so much the way they lived as the way they thought -- such a different mindset. It makes it hard to put yourself in the place of the characters when you don't feel like you have a firm grasp of why people back then did what they did.

Mock
August 10th, 2007, 09:33 PM
Oh, and to second Holbrook, if you want to do it right, it's a ton of work. I'm planning on writing a revisionist history that kicks off in 1572 (the year England enacted its vagrancy law). I've been studying the renaissance for years and I still don't feel like I really get it. Not so much the way they lived as the way they thought -- such a different mindset. It makes it hard to put yourself in the place of the characters when you don't feel like you have a firm grasp of why people back then did what they did.

The Renaissance is just too damn complicated. Stick with basic peasant-and-pitchfork Middle Ages. Er, at least, that's what people take the Middle Ages as, so for the most part you can get away with it if you must . . .

Currently I'm planning a pirate novel and am putting in a decent amount of research to it. I'm frustrated about how complicated the Age of Sail was, let alone modern nautical technology. It took FOREVER (the pirate idea has been bouncing around for years, maybe since seeing Pirates of the Caribbean a couple years ago) for my search for a good source on a pirate's daily life to produce anything substantial. And even here I'm still a bit hazy about the really basic activities of a seaman--maintaining a ship, navigational techniques, menial tasks aboard the ship, etc.

Which is why, if I ever do write this, my main character will be a landsman who's never been on a ship before, and is clueless as to its functions. Heh, leave all the complicated stuff to the minor characters, in the background, and make the main character ignorant and unperceptive throughout the story.