How historical do you want your historical fic?

Martin Gill

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
Messages
407
This gets to what I'm now wrestling with. I finished my story, its out with readers for feedback, but a some point I need to start thinking about query letters, etc. My question is how to classify it and who to approach? Its rooted in history, with real-world locations. I blend Norse and Finnish myth with genuine history. I use a couple of historical characters - all of whom are very poorly documented anyway, so I take massive liberties. There's a mythical character, but she's human. There's magic, or is there? There's divination, sacrifice, one of the characters has a vision (which could be drug induced), one of the characters falls under the influence of a witch - because he believes she's a witch. I've tried to portray a world people of the C8th would have believed in.

So I don't think its historical fiction, but its not pure fantasy. Is "historical fantasy" a thing? Would that help when pitching an agent?
 

MWagner

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 25, 2015
Messages
1,127
Historical fantasy is a thing. Your best approach is probably to look for comparable works by well-known authors to compare your work to. From the sounds of it, Bernard Cornwell's Warlord series is a good comparable.
 

Radrook

Science fiction fantasy
Joined
Oct 18, 2017
Messages
29
What bothers me in any historical portrayal be it an attempt at fiction or a documentary is an obvious agenda. For example, portraying of a certain historically prominent character which has been generally accepted as belonging to one race suddenly appearing as a totally different one. This was done in a documentary of Attila the Hun where he was portrayed as a Northern European. Another documentary has the Caribbean Native American Tainos portrayed as sub-Saharan Africans. Or having the historical figure displaying overt sexual preferences and subsuming all other aspects of his or her life around that piquant point.

Once such agendas become more than obvious, I find it extremely difficult to pay attention to the rest of the film and find myself asking what exact evidence do the filmmakers have to support that portrayal. In short, if a controversial issue is to be included, then a respect for the audience's intelligence would demand that the evidence for that portrayal be included as well instead of serving it up as if it were some sacred untouchable indisputable fact.
 

Avelino de Castro

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 21, 2020
Messages
74
How historical do you want your historical fic?

I'm asking because I'm writing a first draft of a novel that started out very very low fantasy set in "viking" times but as I go on I'm gravitating towards it being set in the "real world" with no gods, magic etc but with two fudges to make it more alternate history...

1. Fudge the exact timings of when certain people ruled and certain places (mostly Iceland and viking York and Dublin) were settled. That said - I'm aiming at a C9th setting where there's a lot of conflicting evidence about who ruled at various points anyway.
2. The inclusion of a large scale natural phenomena which is perfectly plausible and did actually happen, but in the late 1600's, in order to weave in something that they mythologically believed back then, but to give it a real world rationale.

So would this jar? Would you consider this not historical, but fantasy because it takes a massive licence with history? Does historical fantasy have to have an exact date, especially when its dealing with a very poorly documented dark age/early medieval setting?
That's a great example. I agree. If I'm reading historical fiction I don't want to read about characters with a twenty first century mindset. Someone like Mary Renault can write the Ancient World so that her characters take slavery for granted, believe women should be confined to the house, talk about infanticide as completely normal, and that's what interesting - to enter into their mental framework. And a great writer can make those characters sympathetic, and their values comprehensible within their own context.
I wrote a piece of historical fiction that won an award. It was a short story about pt barnums weirdest freak. I did extensive research and tied real events into my story. I wove my main character into real events and made him responsible for some mysterious real events that history didnt have an explanation for. The story was a big hit. I withhold the name of the story to avoid the wrath of the forum police. I dare not plug my own published work. But with a little tweaking you can add writer generated characters to a story and win awards for it. I'm living proof. Good luck!!
 

Avelino de Castro

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 21, 2020
Messages
74
Honestly I can let a awful lot slide in historical fiction.

If the Rhine only froze in 316AD in January and the plot point of your book is the river still being frozen in late February, well I can let that slide - I have actually seen that complaint in a review. Similarly modern swearing gets a pass, whilst our ancestors certainly swore like troopers their insults often seem...lacking to modern ears, and I am developing a strong dislike to the command "fire" given to archers.

My main bugbear in historical fiction is the using of 20th/21st century knowledge to prove just how smart and skilled a character is compared to everyone else. So a young and plucky 12th century physician will know all about germ theory to and get the reader on side when dealing with those old fuddy-duddies that still believe in humors and excess bile. A Roman patrician giving a lecture straight from the UN Declaration of Human Rights when it comes to dealing slaves.
What is the proper command given to archers to release a volley of arrows? I get that fire is totally wrong but what's the right one?
 

Astro Pen

Write now.
Joined
Jan 24, 2020
Messages
232
Location
Wales UK
What is the proper command given to archers to release a volley of arrows? I get that fire is totally wrong but what's the right one?
A good question and the answer is
"Loose"

According to professor internet the full order set is :-

"Ready your bows!"

"Nock!"

"Mark!"

"Draw!"

"Loose!"
 

paranoid marvin

Run VT Erroll!
Joined
Mar 9, 2007
Messages
2,251
I do wonder about commands with bowmen. You always see in tv and movies a similar set of commands to those mentioned by Astro Pen, but in reality warbows were incredibly strong and required considerable strength to pull back. Expecting a bowman to hold release of an arrow with a drawn bow seems unrealistic., as the strength required would be immense. From 'nock' to 'release' I would imagine would be one smooth movement. There would have been a command which no doubt wasn't 'fire' or 'shoot', but could have just been something as simple as the drop of a hand or a single verbal command of 'loose' or 'let the them have it!'
 

Vertigo

Mad Mountain Man
Supporter
Joined
Jun 29, 2010
Messages
7,654
Location
Scottish Highlands
I do wonder about commands with bowmen. You always see in tv and movies a similar set of commands to those mentioned by Astro Pen, but in reality warbows were incredibly strong and required considerable strength to pull back. Expecting a bowman to hold release of an arrow with a drawn bow seems unrealistic., as the strength required would be immense. From 'nock' to 'release' I would imagine would be one smooth movement. There would have been a command which no doubt wasn't 'fire' or 'shoot', but could have just been something as simple as the drop of a hand or a single verbal command of 'loose' or 'let the them have it!'
Once you are at full draw with a bow the majority of the weight is held by your skeleton not your muscles. You might be surprised just how long a well trained bowman can hold at full draw. I can hold my bow at full draw for several minutes without great difficulty. Sure it's no where near the weight of a war bow but I'm no where near as strong as the archers of those days were.
 

Astro Pen

Write now.
Joined
Jan 24, 2020
Messages
232
Location
Wales UK
An interesting tangental issue is the difference between medieval longbow and cross bow. Greater than one might first think in terms of battlefield deployment.
There is an article here, (unfortunately in an appalling '1990s' font/ layout considering it was revised in 2015!)
And a video for those who left their best glasses on the bedside table as I increasingly do these mornings :giggle:
 

Allegra

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 30, 2006
Messages
2,574
Robbert Harris wrote in Author's Note in his novel An Officer And A Spy:

"None of the characters in the pages that follow, not even the most minor, is wholly fictional, and almost all of what occurs, at least in some form, actually happened in real like.
Naturally, however, in order to turn history into a novel, I have been obliged to simplify, to cut out some figures entirely, to dramatise, and to invent many personal details."


That is how I like it in a historical fiction.
 
Top