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View Full Version : What are strengths, weaknesses, and comparisons between fantasy and historical fantasy?



satyesu
09-21-2016, 01:03 AM
I have asked about something similar some time ago in a different sub-forum, but I'm not thinking about that plan much any more.

realityfix
09-21-2016, 06:13 AM
To me, Fantasy is limited only by your imagination. Historical Fantasy would be limited to whatever time period you're placing your story in, right?

Brightdreamer
09-21-2016, 06:26 AM
I'm... not sure what you're asking, here.

Fantasy is anything with a fantastic element in it. This can be anything from the barely-there whisper of magic realism to deep-fried, baked-from-scratch ultra-strange worlds.

Historical fantasy is adding a fantastic element to history - it would be anything from a near-perfect image of that time and place with a little magic spice, or a radical alt-history departure influenced by fantastic forces/elements. It requires a little more thought/adherence to the real world and why things have happened/not happened in our own history to pull off well, but otherwise it can be every bit as wild and imaginative (or subtle and imaginative) as any other fantasy category.

Historical fantasy is a subset of the broader Fantasy genre, so any discussion of its strengths, weaknesses, and/or comparisons would be comparing it to itself. It's like asking to compare desserts and ice cream. Ice cream is itself a dessert, while the category "dessert" encompasses a broad range of edibles.

rwm4768
09-21-2016, 08:51 AM
With historical fantasy, you usually have to find a way to make your fantasy elements believable as part of our known history. Or you can go the complete alternate history route. The Temeraire series is, I believe, a good example of the latter.

SillyLittleTwit
09-21-2016, 08:55 AM
I'd interpret the question as "secondary world fantasy" vs "fantasy that takes place in what is clearly our world at some point in history."

The former, depending on the scope of the story, requires more creative work, since you're building the world from scratch. The latter, depending on whether you want to emphasise "historical" or "fantasy" requires more research, since you will be trying to portray something that actually exists.

Roxxsmom
09-21-2016, 10:05 AM
Historical fantasy can be pretty broad. Many think of it as strictly being a representation of the world as it really was, with fantasy elements hidden from most people living in that world and not altering what we know of history at all to alternative histories. But some historical fantasy takes place in alternative versions of our world, or alternative timelines, where the fantasy elements changed things in very noticeable ways. In that kind of historical fiction, things don't unfold exactly as it did in ours. An example would be Anne Lyle's Night's Masque Trilogy, which takes place in an Elizabethan England that is similar to the real one, but humans share the world with a second intelligent species. The same historical figures exist in this world: Queen Elizabeth, William Shakespeare and so on, but there are differences in some of the details of their lives.

There's also a type of fantasy that takes place in our world where the historical tweaks are so significant that it is almost like a secondary world in some ways. Kate Elliot's Spiritwalker Trilogy is an example of this. It takes place in our world, but it's one where the Carthaginians didn't lose the Punic Wars, the last ice age didn't end, humans share the world with a sentient species of dinosaur, and Colonialism didn't happen (instead, there was an African diaspora into Europe, so nearly everyone there is a mix of what we think of as races in our own world).

Grounding one's fantasy world in real history takes a lot of research, obviously, and readers tend to expect it to capture the aesthetics, sensibilities, and feel of a particular era pretty closely, even if it's an alternative timeline.

Secondary world fantasy leaves the writer more free to play with elements that would seem out of place in our world. I like it, because I can create a world with different rules. Some secondary world fantasy is inspired by a particular era or culture too, and it can be hard to create something completely from scratch. Sometimes secondary world fantasy writers run up against the issue where desired aesthetics or "coolness factors" from a particular era smack into something else about the world. And depending on whether or not one is going for a more whimsical, escapist feel, or whether one wants the world to feel very real, a secondary world fantasy writer likely still has to do some research to get a sense for what outcomes are plausible with various changes they might make. Of course, readers are more likely to suspend disbelief about unrealistic elements if those elements tickle their own sense of what is fun or cool.

One of the frustrations of writing secondary world fantasy is that some people seem to expect it to be strongly based on a real historical time or place (whether or not their perceptions of what that time or place is really like is another issue, of course), and when it isn't, they assume the writer is ignorant of history.

satyesu
09-22-2016, 02:53 AM
My issue is thus: I'm going to do NaNoWriMo and I have a ton of ideas that would lend to a separate fantasy world. I have in my head that writing instead a historical fantasy might be less enjoyable, but at least readers might learn something about history. Advice?

jjdebenedictis
09-22-2016, 06:53 AM
My issue is thus: I'm going to do NaNoWriMo and I have a ton of ideas that would lend to a separate fantasy world. I have in my head that writing instead a historical fantasy might be less enjoyable, but at least readers might learn something about history. Advice?Why the heck are you trying to educate the readers? They can read a history book if they want that.

Write a good story. People read novels because they want to read a story. Learning something is utterly incidental to that pursuit.

Brightdreamer
09-22-2016, 07:02 AM
Why the heck are you trying to educate the readers? They can read a history book if they want that.

Write a good story. People read novels because they want to read a story. Learning something is utterly incidental to that pursuit.

+1

People will learn more reading an entertaining story than they will reading a book written by author who wants to trick them into learning through fiction. So write a good story. If it's historical fiction, write a good and well-researched story. If it's not historical, write a good and well-thought-through story.

If your goal is to educate first and entertain second, try your hand at nonfiction. (This isn't intended as an insult, incidentally - there's a need for well-written nonfiction. It just shouldn't be sugar-coated as "fiction", like the proverbial spoonful of sugar masking the taste of medicine. People should read your stuff because it's what they want to read, be it fiction or nonfiction; they shouldn't pick up fiction and be force-fed educational material "because it's good for you." It caused a knee-jerk gag reflex when you were told that as a kid, and it still causes a knee-jerk gag when you're a grown up.)

Mary Love
09-22-2016, 07:13 AM
I have in my head that writing instead a historical fantasy might be less enjoyable

Then for gosh's sakes don't spend a months labor on it! Write what is most enjoyable to you and hope that's enough to get you through the tough times, otherwise you're dooooomed. ;) :P

Brian G Turner
10-30-2016, 09:05 PM
Historical fantasy is something people write because they have an unbound passion for history and years of dedicating their time to it.

So if you don't have a vast and intricate knowledge of period history, chances are you wouldn't be able to write it successfully.

Write what you know, and all that. :)

snafu1056
10-31-2016, 07:29 AM
Pure fantasy is like having a blank canvas while historical fantasy is like adding fantasy to an existing painting. Personally I prefer the latter because when my imagination has free-reign I tend to default to cliches and stuff I've seen in other fantasy stories. But working within the framework of a world I didn't create forces me to think in ways I might not have if I was in the "omnipotent creator" role. This is definitely limiting in many ways, and not everyone enjoys those kinds of limitations.

llawrence
11-01-2016, 09:26 AM
Hm. I guess I've been writing something like historical fantasy, but I've been very loose about it. I've researched enough to (I hope) give some flavor of the time period, but after that I went to town, changing geographies, empires, and cultures whenever it suited. I do make some references to people and places that would be recognized from our own history: Assyrs, Lydians, Etrurians (Etruscans). But I haven't felt confined to presenting these people as they were in our timeline.

Alternate history, I guess, one with imps and sorcerers? I dunno.

frimble3
11-03-2016, 06:03 AM
I have in my head that writing instead a historical fantasy might be less enjoyable, but at least readers might learn something about history. Advice?
You can never tell what the readers will 'learn' from fiction. You could write a brilliant historical fantasy about Tudor times, with sorcerers and political skullduggery, as well as the correct cannons, and all some readers will come away with is 'the kings preferred blondes' and 'the elves were the power behind the throne'.
Write what you enjoy writing.

Maxx
11-23-2016, 05:37 AM
I'd interpret the question as "secondary world fantasy" vs "fantasy that takes place in what is clearly our world at some point in history."

The former, depending on the scope of the story, requires more creative work, since you're building the world from scratch. The latter, depending on whether you want to emphasise "historical" or "fantasy" requires more research, since you will be trying to portray something that actually exists.

I agree. Putting a little "history" (whatever that might be: liturgies, costumes, culverins, shoes, banknotes, legal matters, hats, telephones) seems to me to be an interesting way of putting some interesting things into a fantasy world. The tough part is always plausibility, I guess and that means if you can slip in the history under the heading of the utterly fantastic then your real history suddenly becomes weirdly plausible.