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Historical Research in Fiction

By UnoSombrero
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Originally a school project, I decided this might be useful to someone if released into the wild.  I've had to do a TON of historical research over the course of working on my novel, and this is just a brief guide on how/why someone should do that.  There's more to historical research than you might think.

:iconplangkye: provided the fancy drawings viewed here in part (used with permission).

:iconredheadstock: provided the free people silhouette GIMP brushes.  Thanks for being awesome!
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© 2013 - 2021 UnoSombrero
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Dentonius's avatar
UnoSombrero's avatar
VFreie's avatar
the moment you focus on time and place over essential humanity is the moment you have a caricature, not a character

A round of applause for this piece of gold, amid all the other sensible advice.
UnoSombrero's avatar

It seemed something that had to be said.
WrittenEdge's avatar
 This is extremely helpful. In fact, the most helpful piece I have been able to find all day!
UnoSombrero's avatar
Thanks!  I hadn't seen many tutorials on the subject, so I figured someone might find it useful.
Techta's avatar

You did this with GIMP? WOW!
UnoSombrero's avatar
Seeing as I'm waaaaaaaay too cheap for Photoshop, yes.  GIMP's pretty good though, at least the extremely old version I'm using-- kind of like free Photoshop, which is my kind of Photoshop.
Vyanni-Krace-ACE's avatar

And its even harder if you're trying to write a fantasy story based in its own realm of reality but with heavy influence from the middle ages in terms of technology and lifestyle etc...and enough historical and realistic detail for readers to 'live' and properly experience the book(s) rather than feel disconnected due to the fantasy element.

Details such as religion, race, gender roles, etc...are all vital but there's also the difficulty of deciding where to draw the line in terms of the fantasy realm and how such standards work among the other existing races in the book(s). You have the added challenge of trying to make the other races as tangible as the humans.


And people wonder why I haven't written much of the actual book yet-I'm still far too busy doing all the research and fleshing out the fantasy world and its people including creating its entire history and smoothing out all the details on how everything works and links together.


This tutorial is brilliant and gives excellent advice to writers. Thank you for creating it because it really explains the importance of detailed historical research.

UnoSombrero's avatar
I have to agree with you there--taking the time to actually root a fantasy world in real-life elements is incredibly time-consuming but well worth it if you can balance it right, and that's hard.  Where do you choose from?  Which centuries?  Do you include the complexity of real life or do you pare it down to help maintain your sanity?  How can you make it into a cohesive whole with entire other species and/or magic in the mix, with both of those weighed in?

My current work sticks mostly with real-world history (albeit with some rare odd elements and a dramatic shift in the year 2012), which is why this tutorial mostly talks about that.  I've dabbled in alternate history and sci-fi societies, and worked in a few fantasy realms, though never tried to build one; I think I like more modern elements too much to attempt a more traditional fantasy world.  

The line, as you said, is definitely the hardest part.  Where does it blur.  Where can you reach that tipping point where everything works logically but that everything happens to include elements of illogic and the unreal.

...I could almost try at another tutorial about that specifically, though it feels like some of that ground has already been covered.  How to worldbuild, etc.  Unsure.  I will say that at some point, you do have to just start writing--maybe work with a mix of writing and research simultaneously, so you have some workflow and can hammer out problems as they arise (for the first few drafts, anyhow....).  

All rambling, haha.  I'm glad this little guide helps, though!
Vivacia18's avatar
Fabulously entertaining format, and very true advice - thanks so much for sharing love:D
UnoSombrero's avatar
You're very welcome!  I hadn't seen anything dealing with this topic yet, so I figured why not give it a go (and honestly making it entertaining was the only way I could stand to finish the assignment--if I can escape having to write an essay, I'm escaping the essay, thanks).
Vivacia18's avatar
True, research for fiction is extremely underrated, much to the chagrin of readers.
I envy you being able to hand something like this in - science papers are pretty stifling that way:/ Although you do get the excuse to sound like a pompous ass, so I guess it balances out in a way:XD:
petiteUlis's avatar
Saved in my files, thank you !
hanroe's avatar
Great advice for writers
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