History as Fantasy

In many ways, writing historical fiction is like writing fantasy. And reading historical fiction is like reading fantasy.

In one genre, you have to look up a lot of tiny details to make the reader accept that the world they’re reading about is real/true. In the other genre, you have to make up a lot of details to make the reader accept that the world they’re reading about is real/true. In both cases, those details have to be sprinkled into the text in ways that make sense for the story and don’t distract the reader from the story, either. In both cases, the details have to hang together.

Both genres have similar reading protocols, as well. Fantasy readers can lose their suspension of disbelief if some part of the fantasy world doesn’t make sense to them. This will vary according to how critically the reader reads, or what story elements are more or less important for them.

Historical readers can lose their suspension of disbelief when a historical detail in the story is inaccurate. This varies according to the reader’s historical knowledge; for instance, if you know a period very well, you might catch slips that a less-informed reader might miss. And some readers can accept slips, because historical details or period-appropriate diction are less important to them than the story as a whole. Occasionally, the reader might lose their suspension of disbelief because, even though the historical details are accurate, they do not believe in its accuracy because they believe it contradicts something else they know – and that, too, can be a problem of how details are used and presented, part of creating believable architecture for an imaginary world.

Worldbuilding techniques cross-pollinate.

Related post:
Historical Detail in Fiction.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen’s first erotic novel, The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover (Harlequin Spice, December 2008), was translated into French and German. Her second Spice novel, The Moonlight Mistress (December 2009), was translated into Italian and nominated for a RT Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her third novel is The Duke & The Pirate Queen (December 2010). She has also published erotic short stories as Elspeth Potter. Her blog features professional writing and marketing tips, genre discussion, book reviews, and occasional author interviews.
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4 Responses to History as Fantasy

  1. Shannan says:

    I hadn't thought of that parallel in particular, but you're right — fantasy and historical fiction do have a lot in common for the reader. Might be why I like both!

  2. Jeannie Lin says:

    Great points! I've found a lot of parallels between both the reading and writing of historical and fantasy.

    My historicals are practically historical fantasy. Mainly because the research only goes so far and the rest of the details are gaps we have to reasonably fill in as authors.

  3. Stephanie Draven says:

    Yes, yes, yes.

    Also, then there are those of us who are actually writing historical fantasy–where we're taking an existing historical time period and layering magic or alternative history over it.

  4. Victoria Janssen says:

    Shannan, I think that's why I like both, too!

    Jeannie, I don't consider it fantasy until there's magic…but others would disagree with me. Also, there's the "Ruritanian" method with an imaginary country in an otherwise "real" world like in Anne Gracie's current series.

    Stephanie, I love love love historical fantasy.

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