Today we welcome the incredible Kiki Hamilton.
Kiki Hamilton is the author of the YA historical fantasy series THE FAERIE RING. Book 1, THE FAERIE RING and Book 2, THE TORN WING are both out now. Book 3, THE SEVEN YEAR KING releases in May of 2013.
Writing Historical Fantasy
by Kiki Hamilton
Thanks for inviting me over to STEAMED! Though I’m not a writer of steampunk fiction, I do write historical fantasy (THE FAERIE RING (2011) and THE TORN WING (2012) )which has some notable similarities with steampunk, such as life in the Victorian era.
One of the questions I’m frequently asked is how much research do I have to do for my books? The short answer is A LOT! The longer answer is that I do spend quite a bit of time researching Victorian England, as well as British faerie lore, but luckily, I find it fascinating. The goal of any writer who sets their story in the Victorian era is to make the reader feel like they’ve stepped back through time (or taken a time machine…) and are walking the foggy, cobblestone streets of the past along with the characters.
In my case, it’s a combination of setting, character definition (which includes description, dialogue, backstory and behavior), weaving fact with fiction, as well as using language that is suitable to the time period. I’ll share some brief thoughts on each of those below:
Setting can be much more than the physical attributes of the scene. In some instances, setting can almost become a character within the story. Setting is an opportunity to set a mood. Here’s an excerpt from THE FAERIE RING that I like:
“The World’s End had a packed house tonight. The wooden plank floor of the pub was slick with spilled ale and the rich, yeasty smell of beer hung thick in the air. A row of sailors sat shoulder to shoulder along the wooden bar, hunched over their drinks as though fearful their glasses would be snatched away. Big mirrors lined the walls, etched with the names of ales or whiskeys, reflecting the bright lights in the room as well as the cloud of tobacco smoke. Barmaids and prostitutes, with their skirts partially tucked up in their waistbands, worked their way through the thick crowd milling between the full tables, smiling and joking with the customers. The tinkling notes of a piano were a backdrop to the cacophony of accents that clashed above it all, like an instrument with several strings out of tune.”
Hopefully, the reader can see the interior of the pub, along with the patrons, can smell the spilled ale, can hear the notes of the piano and feels immersed in this world.
This is a critical part of any story. Characters need to be described in a way that is suitable to the era. Character definition is an opportunity to further immerse the reader into another era. Dress, language, backstory and motivations each play a part in creating a mental image for the reader. Tying each of those to the time period reinforces the setting and mood you’ve established.
Weaving Fact with Fiction
For me, this is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing THE FAERIE RING series – finding ways to weave actual history with the fantasy story I’m telling. I like to think of the books as ‘what if…’ stories which is similar to the alternate timelines that many steampunk novels employ.
Using language that is suitable to the timeframe is an important piece in creating the world of your novel. Using language or terms that are too modern for a Victorian setting (anachronistic) is one of the fastest ways to pull your reader out of the ‘dream’ and remind them that they’re reading and not living your story.
So, that’s a quick look at some of the considerations I put into writing historical fantasy. Hope you found it interesting and helpful! Any others we should add to the list?