Sunday, May 02, 2010

A.F. Stewart: Bringing Historical Fantasy To Life

Please welcome my guest today, A.F. Stewart, a fellow Canadian fantasy author...

Bringing historical fantasy to life.

Many of my fantasy books and stories have a historical backdrop, which gives me, as the writer, two problems to overcome: creating a world of fantasy and re-creating an era in history. I have to meld known facts with myth, folklore, and imagination into one credible, fictional world.

So how do I create a convincing world from dry dusty facts and fanciful myth? How do I turn my ideas and research into a living, breathing historical place complete with imaginary fantasy elements?

For me, it’s all about balancing the unknown with the familiar, not bogging my plot points down in minutiae and using the dialogue, setting and characterization to weave the story.

Here are some of my tips.


You need to create the tone of your book with the dialogue. Any historic fantasy will feature more formal, traditional dialogue. There will be no “cool dude” passages in the book. You also don’t want to “over flower” your dialogue; a simple suggestion of historical or old-fashioned words is sufficient.

Here’s an example from my story Harbinger:

“Perhaps he has put too much credence in the Celtic leaders and their superstitious magic, but we have all seen strange things here, in Britannia. There is nothing to say that the woman is not a witch.”


To paint a scene that says history you have to decide which facts to use and which ones to chuck. It might be colourful to describe the inner workings of a Regency kitchen, but it could also slow the pace of the story with irrelevant facts. A good scene allows a picture to form in the mind of the reader, without boring or overwhelming them with details. Let the reader’s imagination fill in what you leave out.

Here’s a passage from my book Chronicles of the Undead that illustrates a Christmas scene, but uses few details:

The house is certainly festive, with the holly wreaths and the festooned greenery. Cook made a toothsome cake yesterday that was most palatable. No doubt she has more such delicacies to come.


Good, believable characters will ground the unfamiliar and fantastic elements for the reader, so they may connect with something recognizable. How a character acts and reacts can set an atmosphere. A person in a medieval fantasy will have different cultural values then someone living in the 19th century. Introduce a sparkling vampire into a historic novel and you are more likely to see a mob with pitchforks than a lovesick teenager.

The following scene from my story, Who Wants to Live Forever?, happens just before two new soldiers go into combat with a non-human species. Even though the setting is fantasy, the exchange could conceivably happen in any war:

“What’ll happen, then? Do you think it’ll be bad? I mean we’ll keep our heads down, stay in the back. We should be good. Yeah, we should be good.”

“Yeah, Salim, we should be good.” I smiled, but I didn’t mean the words. I don’t think he believed them, either.

So, that’s my advice. Hey, it works for me.

A. F. Stewart
Shadows of Poetry
Read Now -
Twitter - @scribe77
Afallon Website


  1. Wonderful advice and great stories...I love hearing how others make it work...thank you for sharing today.

  2. These are some good tips. Historical fantasy is my A#1 favorite genre and I love to find a new author who writes it well. I will check out your books.

  3. Brigit, Miriam, thanks for the kind words.

  4. Very good advice. A great interview and lots to think about. Thanks!

  5. great information. thanks for sharing your knowledge


Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.