Saturday, March 5, 2011

Historical Fiction vs. Fantasy

I’m posting this as means of clarification. I think I confused a few people and maybe even offended a few more in my recent post about what I don’t like about fantasy. I apologize for the fact that I didn’t make my post as clear as I meant to. As such, let me state this very clearly:

I’m not saying historical fiction is better than fantasy.

I like historical fiction better than I like fantasy, but that’s a personal preference. In my post, I hoped not to downgrade the genre, but to push the many other young writers I know to write better fantasy, and thus reach a broader audience (maybe that’s unnecessary, since the fantasy fans are about the widest branch of people right now, but shouldn’t we always focus on telling the best story possible?).

This post and others like it also might seem to imply that historical fiction is also harder than fantasy. I don’t think it’s that either. It’s different. Neither one is harder than the other, they just have different upsides. So, I short escapade into how I see it (and before you ask, I am decently qualified to do this as I have written a fantasy novel).

Why Fantasy is “Easier” than Historical Fiction
Fantasy: No constraint. Build worlds, defy logic, no attachment to history!! Anything goes. It’s your world. Create races, make up names, roll out the landscape, the cities, the towns...

Historical Fiction: You’re in the grid of history. Research. You must know how houses are built, what the clothes look like and were made of, how religion was practiced, and yes, that there are rushes on castle floors. You must know what the possibilities for characters’ nationalities and how their names must coincide with that. You must know the landscape in past times, and everything must match. You have to balance the dialogue between what the modern person will be able to understand and what they will expect from a story set in the past. You spend hours scouring the internet and the library and each small fact is treated like a prize jewel.

Why Historical Fiction is “Easier” than Fantasy
Fantasy: No constraint. There are endless possibilities, and you must start from scratch to create a world that your readers will accept, love, and want to spend time in. You have to figure out how to explain this world to your readers without boring them. You need to create languages and peoples that are foreign and yet still reach your audience in tangible way. You have to figure out what towns and cities look like. You need to make up nationalities and have your characters’ names match, you must create feuds, history, religions--in brief, you must create amazing depth that you will never get to explain completely to your reader.

Historical Fiction: You have a grid. You have a place to start. You don’t have to create the world, you just have to explore it. Most likely, your readers will already understand part of what is going on and what to expect. There isn’t as much to explain, and you’re not tempted to explain as much, because you didn’t create this world. God did.

So. The statement Historical Fiction is easier Fantasy is false. The statement Fantasy is easier than Historical Fiction is false. However, so is Historical Fiction = Fantasy.

They are different. And that’s great. Because if we all liked the same things, this would be a boring world, now, wouldn’t it?


P.S. The "Why I Love Sherwood" series will resume Monday.

Both images from Wikipedia.


Hannah said...

Hey Nai! Wow you've got some great posts on here. I recognize some of the things in your historical Fiction from the OYAN webinar. It is so true. I really like Historical Fiction as well, but I'm kinda more of a Fantasy Bug. This is a great blog and I love to follow!

Nairam said...

Hi Hannah!

Thank you! Unfortunately, my posts-on-fantasy spree is coming to an end, but maybe you can still find some use in my other posts!

Anonymous said...

Great summary of the former post, Nai! I see what you mean. Point(s) taken!


Anonymous said...

Just curious, have you written any fantasy?


Nairam said...

Yes. I said that in the post, actually. Not GOOD fantasy, but yes, a fantasy novella. I actually went to the fantasy genre after deciding that modern day/historical fiction would take too much research. Just turns out that I'm better at research than I am creating worlds, so I switched back after that excursion.

Cait said...

A very insightful post. Well done!

I think you have a very clear way of comparing things when you write. :)

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