Dust off your swords: Fantasy vs Historical fiction

November and NaNoWriMo 2011 approach. Yesterday the NanoWriMo website was refreshed and updated, ready for this year’s festivities.

It’s just about time for me to temporarily put to bed When the Guns Stop, the novel I’ve been working on for the last two years. To step out of the First World War and into another world where magic stuff happens, people fight with swords instead of guns and everyone has a silly made-up name.

I love writing historical fiction. I really enjoy carrying out research, learning about the First World War and immersing myself in the world in which it took place. But boy, it’s hard work. You have to research everything. From the weather on a given day, to what people wore, how they spoke, what they drank, what current affairs they might be chatting about in the pub (would they be in a pub?) to what they might name a pet dog. Everything. Sometimes it feels like my ability to write a story is inhibited by having to get the facts right.

The irony is that having done your research, you must then wield it with a very light touch. The challenge is to create a world the reader understands without going off into chunks of explanatory ramblings. It’s a novel, not a text book. Unfortunately you see it a lot in historical novels. The author wants to share all the hard work they’ve done.

In writing fantasy you also have to do your research. You better know how to shoot a longbow, what you can eat in a polar environment, or what kind of governing system works in a pre-literate agrarian society if your story calls those things. But you don’t have to adhere to historical facts.

What you do have to do is ‘world building’. Your setting has to be internally consistent and logical, given the climate, geography, technological level, culture etc you choose.

City of Djinn, my 2011 nanowrimo project, is a colourful, action-packed adventure with lots of wit and black humour. I can have a lot of fun with it and I’m certainly looking forward to that after the war trauma and PTSD of my other novel!

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