What is historical fantasy? Well, in my mind, historical fantasy is just what it sounds like: historical fiction with a fantastical twist. Just like contemporary fantasy or urban fantasy has a present-day setting but features magic, monsters, and other elements of fantasy – historical fantasy is the same, but just using a time and place from history as the setting.
Right now I am writing historical fantasy – specifically I’m writing dieselpunk or decopunk, stories set in the 1920s, but with magic and some advanced technology. I’m doing a lot of research, but I’m also doing a lot of world-building from scratch.
Here are some tips that I am applying to my own work, and that I think are important to consider if you want to start writing historical fantasy:
Decide which is more important to your story – the history or the fantasy.
It’s okay to have an epic fantasy story that just happens to be set in past somewhere on Earth. It’s also okay to have an accurate, believable historical fiction story that just happens to have some magical or supernatural elements. You as the author need to decide what kind of story you’re telling, and how much the magic or the history matters.
Even if the fantasy is more important, get the history right.
If you want to feature a real event or real historical figures in your story, then you need to make sure you get those things right. Even if the fantasy element is more important to your story than the history element, there will probably be history buffs who read your work—and they’ll be quick to point out if you messed up a fact. Don’t stress too badly, though, especially if you’re still in first draft stage. Just make sure you do your research.
This is the most important factor. If you’re writing a steampunk/gaslamp fantasy story set in 1800s Paris and you’ve been pretty vague with the historical details because the magic and supernatural elements are key to the story, then stick with that all the way through. If your story is a historically accurate retelling of a real event, but just with supernatural overtones, then don’t suddenly bring in magic swords and high fantasy halfway through. Establish the rules of your world and stick with it—whether it’s more fantasy, more history, or an even blend of both.
There are as many ways to write historical fantasy as there are stories to tell! Have you read or written historical fantasy?