I’m primarily a fantasy writer, but last year I started a project of historical fiction. At first I thought it would be a breeze, because all I had to do was a little bit of research, and presto! all my story elements are there. No complex world-building and inventing alien alphabets or rules for magic. As it turns out, historical fiction isn’t quite the effortless cake walk I thought it might be.
So now that I have a little experience with two vastly different genres, I thought I’d do a comparison. Which is actually harder to write – fantasy or historical? Here are some elements that I thought I’d compare and contrast.
Research. Obviously historical fiction would be heavier in the research department than most fantasy. However, just because you’re writing fantasy doesn’t mean you’re exempt from getting your facts straight, or at least believable. If you’re writing urban paranormal fantasy set in London, but you’ve never been to London, then a little research on the geography of London might be in order. I’ve done plenty of research for the fantasy trilogy I’m working on, but I’m finding that getting facts, details, and dates correct is even more important for my historical fiction tale of Depression-era Hollywood.
World building. Of course this is a necessity in fantasy. If you’re creating a world and culture entirely out of your own head, you have to spend a lot of time (without those pesky info-dumps) telling your readers all about how the magic works, how long the fairies live, and what the monsters of the dark forest look like. But in historical fiction, you have to do the same thing, because it’s still a different world from the one that the reader inhabits. In my historical WIP, I may not have to describe the layout of the magic castle, but I do have to describe the men’s hats and the ladies’ shoes and tell the reader that the cars have running boards.
Plot. In order for anything to be a story, it needs a plot. And characters. In my fantasy WIP, I had to come up with all of that from scratch. For my historical WIP, I already had a starting point: a real person, and a real incident in her life. However, that one incident was not enough to build an entire novel out of – I still had to come up with enough material (some historical, some fiction) and some other characters (again, a mixture of real people and fictional people) in order to turn it into a story.
So, my conclusion is that historical fiction is pretty different from my favorite genre of high fantasy, but it’s not really easier – or harder. Each genre has its own unique challenges.
If you’ve tried writing multiple different genres, do you find one harder or easier to write?
9 thoughts on “Historical Fiction versus Fantasy – Which is Harder to Write?”
I totally agree that fantasy and historical fiction are similar but still totally different animals. And until you get to writing both, you never realize how much research each one needs. In a way, I think fantasy might be slightly easier (at least personally) because despite all of the finer details, you know that you as the writer are the ultimate source of material, whereas historical fiction you have to find a balance between historical information and your fiction that’s both accurate and still entertaining.
So true! You said this perfectly. Yes, the further I get into my historical WIP, the more I’m realizing that I’ve got to stay true to the real world as it was at the time, rather than just changing the world to suit my needs.
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And coming from a fantasy writing background, that can be quiet the challenge!
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Fascinating comparison! I’m not a fiction writer, so I have little to base a solid opinion on one way or the other, but it I think about the idea of penning one or the other, fantasy seems a lot harder to me, perhaps because I’m so used to being incredibly immersed in historical and vintage related topics day in and day out. 🙂
I’m sure you’d do great with historical fiction if you gave it a try. 🙂 And perhaps historical seems a bit harder to me at the moment simply because I’ve had more practice writing fantasy. 😛
I think every genre has its own peculiar difficulties, if you do it well, because every genre creates its own peculiar world.
For example, here in Italy there is a very popular writer who’s wrote a series of mystery stories ‘apparently’ set in Sicily. I say ‘apparently’ becuase the location (Vigata) doesn’t exist. It’s suppose to be in the district of Montelusa (which also doesn’t excist) in the province of Agrigento (which does excist). The author created the place, the layout, even its own dialect, and inside this fictional place that he had to present the reader, he inserted actual regional and general elemets: how a police departmet works in a little Sicilian reality, how the Mafia influences that reality, how the past of that specific region filters into the specific reality of that region’s present, which is a part of a larger culture.
It’s a mix of made up elements, very specific elements that not all readers will know (I’m from the north of Italy and many of the things this authors presents are unfamiliar to me) and generally shared elemts (Italian today reality).
Even if the Montalbano’s stories look realistic, there is a part of world building that the author still need to do. And I think this is something that goes for any kind of stories, whether they have a fantasticl element or not.
That’s so true – thank you for that insight and those valid points. World building is still a big deal in that regard, because there has to be some realistic yet made-up stuff in order to make it fiction. Thanks for reading and commenting!
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