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Writing Historical Fiction: Resources

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

Hello, my fellow eggs!

Before reviewing this, please make sure you have read the first lesson as this one contains references to the first lesson. This second lesson is meant to help you think about the different resources from country to country and era to era. By the end of this lesson, you should have a better idea of how to describe various resources in your story.

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Table of Contents

➵ Cuisine

➵ Shelter

➵ Transportation

➵ Events

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↠ Cuisine ↞


A country's cuisine is something they pride their nation on because it can be used as a tool to maintain tradition, pass on a story to the future generations, or simply invoke a sense of nationalism.

What food the people in your story eats or prepares relies on the tools and resources they have available. It is also capable of explaining what social class and/or rank that the people are.

Incorporating scenes with food like the market place, a large banquet, or a medieval feast can be a great way to draw your readers. It helps make the scene lively and it can also make your readers hungry if done correctly!

This link may be helpful to you if you're struggling to figure out where to begin your research.

Example (excerpt from Chapter 4 of Hestia's Wish)

The warning fell flat as Hestia began scarfing down the food at a disturbingly fast rate. Every addition to the dish exploded in the form of savory fireworks in her mouth. She could taste the zesty lemon juice, the lingering chili sauce, and the salty crab meat. With the combination of all the flavors, the food became a refreshing oasis. It was a nice contrast to the torturous heat of the sun. The food melted her mouth, causing tingles to radiate to the tips of her fingers and toes.

Example (excerpt from Chapter 15 of A Celestial Requiem)

No, I want to try new things so I can understand the Mainlands better,” I said. All eyes were on me as I gulped down the bird’s nest soup with my eyes closed. It sloshed around in my mouth, tickling the roof of my mouth. The texture was slippery, a texture my brain was not used to. However, once I got past that, there was an explosion of flavor. The saltiness washed over me like a tidal wave. It was refreshing.

Example (excerpt from Chapter 18 of A Celestial Requiem)

Xuan Guo brought in the first dish, removing the lid to reveal a stir-fry dish of potatoes, eggplant, and sweet peppers drenched in a rich, yet sticky layer of cornstarch. Hints of a scent laced with garlic and onion emanated from the dish, making my stomach rumble. “The chef calls this dish the Three Treasures of the Earth,” he said.

“It looks delicious,” Ariella said.

Xuan Guo and another servant delivered water to each of us, with ice and a slice of lemon floating in the full glass. The brightly colored green peppers captured my attention. The chef had sprinkled sesame seeds to provide a tasteful crunch to bring all the flavors of the dish together.

The potatoes melted in my mouth instantly. And before I knew it, my plate was empty, and Xuan Guo was replacing it with another one, yet more colorful than the last.

I could smell how spicy it was. There had to be a lot of chili. “What is this?” I asked Xuan Guo.

“The chefs called it Spicy Numbing Stir-fry Pot, Bìxià. If it isn’t to your liking, I can ask the cooks to prepare something else,” Xuan Guo replied.

“No, that won’t be necessary. Thank you.” Dragons swayed towards hotter foods. It added to our fiery disposition.

I picked up a bundle of food and took my first bite. I could taste the subtle flavors of cinnamon, star anise, ginger, and nutmeg. Each spice combined to create a gut-wrenching explosion of weizhisu, a powerful yet savory flavor. There were thinly sliced pieces of celery stalks, carrots, lotus root, and shiitake mushrooms, each laced with their own unique tastes.

As you can see from these examples, I provide descriptions using two to three senses. When describing cuisine, don't be afraid to get into the smells, tastes, and feelings of the characters as they're eating it. You don't have to cover every ingredient, just the significant ones you want the reader to pay attention to.

Although all of these examples are based on real-life dishes despite taking place in fictional settings, that doesn't mean you can't invent your own.


↠ Shelter / Architecture ↞


When describing a setting, you may come across a time in which you'll have to describe your character's home, their hometown, or the places they're traveling to.

Usually, the reader likes to be able to see things through the character's eyes. One way to do this is to describe the architecture of the buildings around them. Architecture can speak volumes about the place's resources. However, it is important to note once again that depending on the location and the time period, resources will vary from place to place.

In prehistoric times, stones, mud, and grass were the primary resources for building shelter. At this time, humans did not have the knowledge or the resources to craft tools to help them build structures to combat weather and climate conditions.

Moving over to Ancient Egypt, natural resources such as mud are still being used. Rarer materials such as limestone were used for sacred temples and tombs. The walls of these structures were often covered with carvings and hieroglyphic paintings that talked about the history of their people.

During the start of the 1600s, a baroque style was implemented. And this style illustrated extravagant architectural designs and exaggerated Renaissance styles. Some key elements include high ceiling domes and the contrast between light and dark. Even this style varies from place to place as each artisan provided their own baroque interpretation, often coupled with their cultural aesthetics and values.

Below is a link to the history of architecture. It can be very helpful to know the styles and basic characteristics if you'd like to describe the home that your character resides in or the change from when they move from one country to another. They can also serve as a useful foundation if you wish to use a certain period's style as an influence for your fictional world.


↠ Transportation ↞


At some point, you'll need to describe how your characters get around. In the early stages of mankind, primary transportation would be nonexistent because humans would simply walk from place to place.

As time moves on, you'll find that humans become more dependent on animals, motor vehicles, airplanes, trains, buses, and boats. Knowing what time period your character lives in and where the story takes place can help you quickly narrow down some common modes of transportation.

If you're writing an alternate history or historical fantasy and incorporating something that didn't and would never exist in your selected time period and location, you would need to know how it was developed, how it is used, who uses it, and why. Although you may never use most of the information, the more information you have will help you better understand how to describe it in your writing.


↠ Events ↞


Events typically affect the following (not limited to these points):

1) An individual's health (mental/emotional/physical) and national morale;

2) The environment (including animals);

3) The economy and trade;

4) Society's values; and/or

5) Interpersonal and foreign interactions

Events can be anything that impacts a group(s) of people, a nation, and the elements that keep it stabilized, and the environment. These events may serve as an obstacle to a character, town, or country. A character's thoughts or actions may be determined by certain events. Each individual reacts differently to a specific event; they may be terrified, angry, sad, or even indifferent about it. The outcome of an event can affect how people view their country.

Events that affect the environment ultimately impact humans and animals. Everything is connected, so what affects one thing will affect another. If deforestation were to occur, it would destroy the homes of various animals, causing them to migrate elsewhere since their source of food is now lost. In times of war, the environments would be destroyed with the use of artillery and other man-made weapons.

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

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