When Writing Historical Fiction

When A History Nerd Falls In Love

When writing historical fiction you look back on your favourite books and authors often!

I fell in love with the historical fiction genre when I came across Assassin’s Creed. I never thought about the genre until Ubisoft‘s video historical game. I was face to face with the beaked hoodie hidden blade man with an eagle jawbone logo on his outfit. I fell in love.

The video game alone transports you on a historical journey where you meet characters that existed back in the game’s setting. The only fictional factor is The Creed. The effort put in that particular video game is beyond my wildest expectations for myself as a Dark Ages enthusiast.

Assassin’s Creed Unity

Every single game marks a crucial period in time. The research for historical accuracy is master crafting. Just as an example of the accuracy of Ubisoft’s team, Assassin’s Creed Unity, revolving around the French Revolution, is currently in use to help rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France.

The Love Turned Into Obsession

My love for ancient history is nothing new. Ever since I was a child, I have shown particular attention to anything before modern times and even the Renaissance. I am talking about Ancient Egypt to the end of the Medieval period.

However, I came across Mesopotamian and Sumerian cultures that were first to have a written dialect.

But the Dark Ages and Bronze Age remained my favourite period in time. Vikings and a divided England that was only a dream, high and low kings of Ireland, Francia was a land of outlaws still and so much land there only for the taking.

Vikings were a great obsession ever since I read about their voyages to my home, Québec in Canada. I realized history had to be rewritten because Columbus didn’t discover America. The Vikings did.

History As An Author

I read the fantastic work of Oliver Bowden, who wrote each story attached to every individual game of Assassin’s Creed. Magical and engrossing, Assassin’s Creed Renaissance is a novel I read repeatedly.

Lying is not something I like to do, so I will be honest and say I am pretty picky with what I read. That’s when I came across Bernard Cornwell‘s The Last Kingdom on BBC. I saw the DVD at a store and looked at it, “England is born,” was the tagline.

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

I love fantasy; of course, I’m a Tolkienite myself. I own the super-extended edition of The Lord of the Rings. I read the trilogy and The Silmarillion, and The Hobbit. I watched The Witcher, too, after reading the first novel, Blood Of Elves, years prior to the Netflix series. I also knew about and watched The Shannara Chronicles based on the novels by Terry Brooks, from which I own the first four novels.

Hell On Wheels

But I love history, so I started watching the series, Black Sails and my husband joined in. He was just as passionate about it as I was. They mixed history and the Age of Piracy, so ideally, it might as well be history! We also fell for Hell on Wheels, where one of the few fictional characters is the main one, Bohannon, portrayed by the amazing Anson Mount.

Black Sails
Black Sails

Yet, when I stumbled upon The Last Kingdom, I immediately knew something was different. This wasn’t fantasy. It was historical fiction. I recognized the names from history books. My husband wasn’t quite into it while watching the season one DVD, so we moved on until…

The Kingdom Of Wessex!

One day, we finished Black Sails, The Witcher, The Shannara Chronicles, Hell on Wheels, Frontier, and I decided to press play.

Frontier

It was The Last Kingdom Season one Episode one. Instantly, I was pulled into 9th century England before England. I recognized the kingdoms, some of the Viking names and could feel the crisp air and smell the wilderness and mixed life and death.

We finished the first and second season in no time, and it was heartbreaking to have to wait for the third season and the fourth and now the fifth.

The Shannara Chronicles
The Shannara Chronicles

However, The Last Kingdom is based on Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories novels. So, I bought the first novel, and it is just as engrossing.

Alfred The Great, I learned about him in school but portrayed in this light, I am tempted to believe all of it is true. I learned about the fragility of a divided land before it became not just one kingdom but an Empire. I cried so many tears for the loss of such loving characters and fatalities of the time.

The Last Kingdom

It is just such a strange feeling to live so many lives through the eyes of an author who knows and adores history. I lived, loved, and died with characters from The Last Kingdom.

Aside from a few, most characters in the series are people who existed. Some are moved around in the timeline to amplify the story, and some, like the main character, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, loosely based upon Uhtred The Bold, has a “new life.”

What About My Historical Fiction Writing?

Fantasy is entirely created, but historical fiction is both. Historical fiction demands skills in research, a passion for history, and much patience. My favourite models are Assassin’s Creed and The Last Kingdom, where few elements are fiction.

Assassin’s Creed II – Ubisoft

The past is so alien to us it doesn’t need to be embellished. It shows everything, from cruelty to pure love and betrayal to battles and kingdoms versus kingdoms. It is true to who we are now and shows us a path we can take and learn from to be better.

Viking

So, when it comes to my historical fiction writing, I try my best to pay attention to what I love from those authors. I have so many books on the subject and even took courses in Viking, Celt, and Medieval history.

However, writing about that time period is quite a challenge. We must understand that Vikings were illiterate, and only a small percentage in the kingdoms of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Francia could write.

The Challenge of Historical Fiction

Unlike any other novel genre, historical fiction requires knowledge of the time period, its location and the influential people. The farther in the past you get in history, the less information one might find depending on the location and people.

Viking Map

The amount of time spent on research from the castles, battles, clothing and proper words is the number one task. But it doesn’t stop there.

Peleș Castle - Castle in Sinaia, Romania
Peleș Castle – Castle in Sinaia, Romania

One must research the people used in the book, which are historical and those who aren’t, and how they can interact without changing history and help it move forward.

I don’t know if Bernard Cornwell or the team at Ubisoft often scratched everything and started over because they encountered a cul-de-sac. But I know it won’t stop me even if I realize, “Oops, I should change family.”

The Importance of Accuracy

Accuracy about history is the key to pulling your readers into your story. I compared many historical books I read, and those I couldn’t get into often left details out or used the wrong words to describe an outfit, food, or weapon.

Medieval Time
Medieval Time

I bought a book to learn Middle English to place a few words here and there like breadcrumbs so that it feels more authentic. I also have a Medieval cookbook to help me describe what people ate.

Medieval Castle
Medieval Castle

Details are essential, as small as they can be, without drowning the reader into too much information, it is possible to recreate the early days of the Dark Ages.

I love the accuracy and a solid, detailed timeline to make sure I maintain a strong lead to where I am heading. I noticed the authors that I admire the most have developed skills and qualities better than me, but I am learning.

All The Book Genres Require Skills

No genre in book writing is easy. Every genre requires a different set of skills. Some are more restrictive than others, but it doesn’t mean it’s more straightforward or complex. History is fixed in time and cannot be reshaped.

Outlander

For that reason, those who write historical fiction must respect the boundaries they set for themselves.

It all depends on the type of historical fiction one wants to write, loose, i.e., Outlander or hard, i.e., The Last Kingdom. It all depends on the author. Again, each genre has its own levels, from soft to extremes. All genres demand passion and dedication.

The Last Kingdom
The Last Kingdom

Also, not everyone will go to extremes like me taking courses. My OCD is quite demanding. Not to forget, I’m a history nerd, so everything becomes an excuse for me to learn more about subjects I am passionate about.

Destiny Is All

I never believed in destiny until The Last Kingdom. I recognized myself and found myself in those pages and the series. It ignited a spark I thought I lost and was useless. Never forget that with a book or a series, you live, fight, love, and die many times.

The Last Kingdom
The Last Kingdom

My historical fiction is coming soon. I hope I can bring the same emotional journey I lived through the eyes of Uhtred or Ezio.

Until then, remember that “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.” Because “Destiny is all.”

Arielle Belle Lyon

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