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Writing Historical Fantasy

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

Hello, my fellow eggs!

Before reviewing this, please make sure you have read the prior lessons. This eighth lesson focuses on incorporating fantasy as a subgenre to your historical fiction story.

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Table of Contents

➵ Definition

➵ Mythology and Folklore

➵ Wuxia

➵ Prehistoric

➵ Steampunk / Gunpowder / Gaslight

➵ Extra: Pirate Fiction

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↠ Definition ↞


What is Historical Fantasy?

Historical Fantasy incorporates fantasy elements such as magic and mythos.

A story can be classified as "Historical Fantasy" if fantasy elements are used to overlap with existing history or to rewrite history and create an alternate version. This alternate version can be in the form of a different outcome for an event or person's fate or in the form of a fictional world that is derived from historical events or figures.

Examples include the animated movie Anastasia, the Japanese anime Hakuouki, and the live action movie The Sorcerer and the White Snake.


↠ Mythology and Folklore ↞


This is one of the more commonly used type of historical fantasy. Mythology and folklore are often used to explain certain phenomena such as the creation of the world and the afterlife.

Greek/Roman mythology is one of the more commonly used myths used in storytelling. An example of Greek Mythology in literature would be Homer's epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Roman mythology can be considered the counterpart to the Ancient Greeks' mythology since it is influenced by such. The development of Roman mythology was brought on by the Romans' desire to have their own deities to identify with and worship.

You'll notice as you explore various regional mythologies, that the social structure of deities and myths differ from culture to culture. This is influenced by the manner in which information is passed down from generation to generation (either orally or through writing), their cultural history, and their religion.

For example, in Egyptian mythology, it was believed that the Egyptian gods played a vital role in judging and guiding the souls through the afterlife. Individuals that were judged well, were given a chance to be reborn.

In Japanese mythology, individuals would enter Yomi for eternal rest. Yomi is not considered a hellish or ethereal realm, but rather something mysterious and gloomy.

We won't be going into further detail about each mythology for this series, but keep an eye out for my future mythology series, which will explore the mythologies I incorporate into my works.


↠ Wuxia ↞


Wǔxiá, or Wuxia, is a type of Chinese fantasy that utilizes martial arts and swordsmanship skills. Characters in wuxia stories live by the code of xia and these stories typically take place in Ancient or Pre-Modern China.

The code of xia includes eight common attributes: benevolence, justice, individualism, loyalty, courage, truthfulness, disregard for wealth, and desire for glory. It emphasizes the importance of repaying a debt and vengeance.

The typical layout of a wuxia story is that the protagonist suffers several hardships early on in their life before learning various fighting styles. At the end of the story, they'll have become a powerful fighter that few opponents can defeat.


↠ Prehistoric ↞


Prehistoric fiction focuses on a time prior to the existence of written history.

When writing within this genre, it's important to consider that technology is not the same as it may be in the year 1100 and that writing systems have not yet been developed. And if you're incorporating a fictional civilization, an individual's vernacular may be limited or completely different, so one must consider communication methods as well.

Another important factor is the environment. There may be animals or extreme weather conditions going on that make it difficult for individuals to survive with the underdeveloped tools that they have.


↠ Steampunk / Gunpowder / Gaslight ↞


Steampunk is considered to be a subgenre of science fiction, but it also has ties to historical fiction and fantasy. Steampunk typically takes place in an alternate universe during the nineteenth century, in which steam power is utilized.

Gunpowder Fantasy is a relatively new genre that has recently been getting more attention. It combines magic and mythical creatures with rifles and railroads. There are some similarities between Gunpowder and Steampunk in terms of the era it typically occurs in and level of technology. An example of this would be the Japanese Anime Full Metal Alchemist or Hellsing.

In Gaslamp Fantasy stories, events take place an alternate universe in which magic and the supernatural have higher significance than that of technology and science. An example would be the 2009 TV show Sherlock.


↠ Extra: Pirate Fiction ↞


Nautical fiction/fantasy is a bit of a smaller topic compared to the ones we've discussed in this lesson, however, I wanted to provide a little bit of a discussion on it in case some of you are interested in writing about pirates.

Not all pirates are horrible, some are born into it and see it as the norm. However, their mannerisms and way of living are completely different than those that are tightly integrated into society.

Resources are limited when you are traveling on a ship so often. A person cannot take all of their belongings because they risk getting their items stolen in the event that another group of pirates raid their ship. The more weight that is on the ship, the more of a liability it is as well.

Pirates were not widely accepted in the past due to their rowdy, pillaging behavior. That being said, when writing about pirates, it would not be abnormal to think about conflicts between one group of pirates and a government or even another group.

Warfare is also completely different on water. Most pirates utilize cutlass swords or sabers, the ship's cannons, a gun, and even the ship itself. They'll use whatever means necessary to stay alive.

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

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