diversity tips · how to break the rules well · writing problems

Historical accuracy in fantasy

Yesterday I talked about the Tolkien-retelling issue. Let’s go over another common problem: historical comparison.

Watch your medieval facts. The Dark Ages weren’t idyllic. Sure, it’s fantasy and you can make stuff up. But why is bronze stronger than steel and horses able to gallop all day long?

History buffs will rip you apart unless you have a good reason.

Fantasy farmers love to be secret sword masters on the side. When do they have time to learn? Agriculture is demanding in the twenty-first century, let alone hundreds of years ago.

Tam in WHEEL OF TIME gets away with it because he’s an ex-warrior hiding from the horrors of the world. But let them rest unless you have good reason.

We encourage bending facts in a few areas.

Peasants who can read and write are common, and at this point fine. Readers love gender equality in fantasy, along with queer acceptance. All-white casts aren’t just boring and (frankly) unacceptable, they’re inaccurate too.

fantasy historical accuracy dragon age inquisition vivienne de fer black woman

Tons of rape is not accurate to the time. Writers use it for shock value. Sorry, SONG OF ICE AND FIRE fans. (There are dragons. It’s not a history textbook.) If you’re touching touchy subjects, you need a good reason. Sound like a broken record yet?

The biggest trope is Euro-esque settings. Why are there taverns and breeches and beer and buxom barmaids? Why not bazaars, cheongsams, vodka, and burly male waitstaff in a queer/matriarchal society?

History is chock full of cool cultures and ideas and styles. Have fun!

Note, accuracy is even more important here. Westernizing another culture because it’s “easier” is foul. Changing the mindset at a culture’s heart will anger a lot of people.

You’re also allowed to mix and match. Despite its problems, WHEEL OF TIME has a dozen independent cultures. Each have different languages, foods, domestic animals, fashions, sensibilities, races, histories, and social protocols. Each is enough of a hodge-podge from our earth that accuracy doesn’t apply.

Even SFF writers need to research. Decide what you’re going to make up and what make sense to mirror our world.

In my current work, I researched rainforests and other biomes to come up with crops and foods. These are little details: I didn’t want to bother creating an entire ecosystem.

Do research. It can actually be quite fun.


Image source.


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