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Writing Historical Fiction: Setting and Time

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

Hello, my fellow eggs!

The purpose of this blog post is to introduce you to historical fiction. This first lesson will go explore the importance of setting and time, and how this relates to your story's plot and character development.

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Table of Contents

➵ Location

➵ Time Period

➵ Setting Description

➵ Time and Weather

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↠ Location ↞


"Where will my story take place?" is a common question people ask themselves when they begin their first story.

Location is important in every genre, but in historical fiction, it helps provide context to any events or conflicts that may be happening. They can also explain why individuals think, behave, or speak the way they do. Before you begin writing your story, take a few moments to decide where your story will take place. Does it occur in a real or fictional location?

↣ Real life locations include existing cities/towns, provinces, states, countries, etc., like Thailand, China, Portland, Maine (in the United States), or Mexico.

Fictional locations include fantasy realms, other planets, alternate universes, futuristic settings, etc.

When you're creating a fictional world that is not derived from the real world, you'll need to work harder at describing the elements of your world because there is nothing for the reader to compare it to when visualizing your world. This includes elements such as any languages you may have created, customs and traditions, architecture, and any other relevant information.

Where your story occurs may also have an impact on neighboring cities, countries, or continents either through war or trade. If there are conflicts or alliances between two

entities, it's best to note this either in the form of a chart or venn diagram so you can refer to it when needed. Remember, it's better to have more information than not enough even when you don't incorporate all the background info in the story itself.


↠ Time Period ↞


Time period refers to when the story takes place.

This is an extremely important element in historical fiction because it is one of the biggest parts of a story's background. It provides context to a world's resources, cultural values, technology, and knowledge.

The time period that you select can greatly impact the amount of research that you can compile for your story. There may be little to no records of any information because

(A) writing systems were not yet developed;

(B) the importance of historical preservation was not yet realized or understood; or

(C) records were lost or destroyed sometime in the past.


↠ Setting Description ↞


When describing the setting of your story, it's important to take all five senses, sight, hearing,

taste, texture, and smell, into account. You don't want to overwhelm the reader by incorporating everything at once, but you should consider implementing at least two applications of the senses when you describe a location. You can do this through the use of metaphors and similes.

If you're writing in first person, remember your character's limits. This means that they can't see or hear everything that's happening somewhere else. If they have an ability that grants them enhanced hearing or x-ray vision, then that would be a reasonable explanation. However, it's important to provide some context if you explain something that's happening in a room other than the one the main character is in.

A best way to determine if you're overdescribing the background of your world or the

environment itself is to think about your chapters as a whole. You don't want there to be more paragraphs of setting than of dialogue or action. I find it extremely helpful to set a paragraph limit (or line limit on the mobile version of online serialization apps like Wattpad, Tapas, Royal Road, etc.) so that it doesn't distract from the main storyline.

Example (excerpt from Chapter 1 of Dance of the Dragons)

The humans need to be dealt with, Bìxià. See how they repay you for providing them refuge in our land? They curse your name and spread falsehoods about our people. To make matters worse, they're in cahoots with those damn mages. They ought to be punished for these acts of insubordination," Councilman Liu Luoyang argued.

Anyone that took notice would think the Councilman an unattractive, belligerent, and arrogant man. His pointed nose couldn't be raised any higher in the air, even his long gray mustache was filled with haughtiness as he stroked his beard. He was dressed in a gold and black xuanduan with a gold belt and a black headdress tied around his head with a thin, black string. His outfit signified his high rank as a member of the Wuzhean Council, droplets of sweat speckled his forehead. It was a common reaction whenever he spoke of the humans.

His outward appearance was just as unappealing as the hollow organ that beat inside his chest. A darkness lingered in the depths of his hazel eyes; they spoke immeasurable volumes of war and masked fury. It was as though he was staring at a human at this very moment and prepared to burn them down with a torrent of flames.

If I didn't know any better, I would have thought yaoguai blood coursed through his veins and not that of a Celestial dragon. I believed it was his impartiality and indignant nature towards the humans that managed to persuade his predecessor into passing the position along to him. I couldn't make claims as to whether it was a horrible decision because he still managed to be meticulous with every task assigned to him and he displayed an incredible amount of loyalty. And that was good enough for me.

He began to pace around the room, his face turning redder with every step. Images of a volcano, with Luoyang's face plastered in the center, filled my mind as I thought how he looked like he was ready to erupt. I tried to distract myself by reviewing the new set of scrolls placed to the right of my wooden desk for my review, but soon enough, the words on the scroll began mixing around to read 'Luoyang, the volcano.' A chuckle escaped me, my body shaking from my attempts to contain most of my laughter.

The purpose of this excerpt is to provide a visual representation of Councilman Luoyang's appearance and show his personality. This also gives insight to the Emperor's personality because the reader can tell, from the last paragraph, he likes to joke around. Every element of the description connects with the next, providing the reader with enough information to understand what kind of person Councilman Luoyang is.


↠ Time and Weather ↞


Informing the reader of the time (month, season, and/or year) is important because then they can get a sense of time in the story and have a better understanding of the story's pace. Time not only refers to the date, but to the changing of the seasons and hours of daylight. An

area that experiences more daylight exposure will most likely have warmer temperatures. And an area that experiences less daylight exposure will most likely have cooler temperatures. This equates to different seasons (i.e., winter, spring, summer, autumn). However, before you designate the time the story takes place, you must figure out what calendar you will use.

The most widely used calendar is the Gregorian calendar. We use this to date, however, various other countries have their own calendars to mark religious and notable historic events. There have also been several variations throughout the centuries as scientific analyses have evolved.

It's possible for you to come up with a completely fictional method of telling or recording time,

however, it is recommended that you provide some sort of explanation as to how it differs from our established sense of time.

Example (Eclipsed Deities)

In the Eclipsed Deities series, I have invented a new calendar system. The story is a futuristic, dystopic setting, which is dependent on the fall of the zodiac. The events of Her Darkness and His Star, takes place years within B.F.Z., which can be classified as the Age of the Gods or Before the Fall of the Zodiac.

In Engulfed by Aries and its sequels, you will notice the shift to A.F.Z., which classifies the end of the Age of the Gods and After the Fall of the Zodiac (i.e., the beginning of the dystopic world).

The year is noted at the top of the chapter.

Example (Eternal Promise)

Time is told from two perspectives: the past (the time of the Eight Immortals), which is thousands of years before civilization, and the present (modern-day China). The shift in time periods are illustrated at the top of the chapter and day-to-day changes are noted in the narrative.

Thank you for reading! I hope you find this helpful!

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