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?