Crossing Genres: #Fantasy & #Historical Fiction

Different Genres

Here we are for the last ‘Crossing Genres’ post unless somebody requests pairing another one off with ‘Fantasy’.  I’m open to any that I can slip into January.  Not sure any will be as difficult as this one.  One genre is completely fictional to the point where you have to build an entire world from scratch.  The other is fictional with a solid base in reality, so people can connect to it.  Still, there are overlaps that I can think of.  Not much, but the advice for one can still work for the other.


World Building

This might throw you off a bit because many don’t connect world building with Historical Fiction.  We know it’s a big part of Fantasy, especially if your story takes place somewhere that isn’t Earth.  You need to design cities, magic systems, histories, cultures, landmasses, oceans, religions, flora, fauna, and the list keeps going on.  Even if you use Earth, you need to design pieces that don’t exist in reality because you need a Fantasy element.  It could be magic or monsters, but there has to be something different that doesn’t fall into science or diverted timelines.  Now, some authors make it up as they go along while others flush out the world before they dive into the adventure.  Either way, you need to create a consistent world for your stories to take place in.  Compared to all that, Historical Fiction should be easy, right?

Not really.  Yes, you have actual events to use as a foundation for what you’re about to do and you don’t have to add Fantasy elements.  The story could be about a person who didn’t exist surviving a specific battle in history.  No reason to add dragons or spells to that since it would be strange. After all, most of your readers are going to have some knowledge of those events.  If not when they read then they may become curious enough to see what inspired you.  Here is where world building tips from Fantasy can help.  You CANNOT depend solely on the historical record to get the setting and story across.  Much like drawing someone into a non-Earth or magical Earth world, you have to hit on multiple senses to create the scene.  Don’t just tell people what they see and hear in a boring manner because ‘they already know’ or you focused too much on the historical part of things.  Go as deep as you can to really set the stage and make the characters feel like they’re part of an organic world instead of a casual retelling.

Connecting to the Characters

In Fantasy, you need to create characters that the readers can travel along with in some fashion.  It could be as a fly on the wall or an invisible ghost standing among them, but there needs to be a connection.  Through this bond, the reader can get a better understanding of events.  It isn’t a person seeing events that don’t have anything to do with them, which means they might not care about what happens.  You want them to care about the characters and world, so you need to forge these bonds.  In Fantasy, you can do this through heroic plights, tense action scenes, failures, and anything that reveals the personality of the characters.  Now, this could be said for all genres, but I’ve met many who don’t think this pertains to the other half of our discussion.

Some think that Historical Fiction characters are nothing more than place settings to carry a person through events.  This is very true when an author shows a fictional version of a real historical figure.  We expect them to act a certain way and can become hyper-critical if they deviate from the established mode.  They can become annoyed if they go too far into the more legendary aspect of a figure such as Vlad the Impaler in ‘Da Vinci’s Demons’ being ridiculously macabre.  It seemed too much for some.  So, this preexisting persona for both known and fictional characters can become an obstacle as much as a bridge.  The way to make it more like the latter is to do what we did with Fantasy.  Make these people human instead of ghosts from the past that are locked in a mold.  Show their emotions, thoughts, dreams, failures, and victories to make the reader start to wonder how they would live in the era that the story takes place.  Don’t expect a reader to do this automatically because you’re working with history.  It would be like a Fantasy author expecting people to accept everything simply on the premise that fictional worlds have no rules.  There are rules and one of them is that you need connections.

That’s really all I have for these two.  Might be more generic that previously, but that might prove my overall point.  Advice for one genre can be used to help with another, so don’t just ignore authors who don’t write in your circle.  You never know what you can learn from them.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
This entry was posted in Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Crossing Genres: #Fantasy & #Historical Fiction

  1. V.M.Sang says:

    I found this interesting, Charles, as I write both fantasy and historical fiction. The first, already published, historical book is set in Roman Britain, and the second in Britain during the Viking era. (Not yet published). These worlds are so different from our own they might well be a completely new world. So I think much of the fantasy world building applies.


  2. My latest is a paring of historical fiction with fantasy like aspects. (not pure fantasy) I enjoyed writing it.


  3. This does seem like it would be a tough combo. Readers of fantasy are accustomed to historical-like elements of world building, such as Tolkein’s extensive history of Middle Earth. However, people who really like historical fiction might be a bit more rigid, as you suggest. So adding the fantasy elements would break the suspension of disbelief and be difficult for them to accept.


  4. L. Marie says:

    Great tips! The connection between the genres is very solid. I’m amazed at how some people think that fantasy writers don’t do any research into historical settings when they create their own worlds. But authors still have to know about practical things like arrows or horse breeds or roadmaking. Certainly mapmaking.


  5. Allie Sumner says:

    Great tips! I’ve seen this paring work well but I’ve also seen it crash and burn.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s