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The Role of Historical Facts in Your Fiction Writing

February 25, 2013
Image courtesy of Stoonn at

Image courtesy of Stoonn at

I think we all know by now that if you’re writing fiction that is based on a past era, then you have to tone down the technology for it to be believable.

Imagine how weird it would be if Pocahontas and her tribe were confronted by guys driving tanks instead of holding muskets.

But putting aside the obvious, there are many other little things that you should keep in mind.

The Facts about the Era

You need to do your research when writing a novel, whether it’s reading or watching documentaries.

I love to watch historical documentaries not just because there are interesting but also because they cram so much knowledge into a short space of time. It’s like research on steroids.

Recently, I watched The Americas before Columbus and learned many interesting things about both Europe and the New Western World back in those days.

Now, I’m not a history buff as the only thing I remember way back in school is Napoleon’s less than average height, so you have to excuse me if you know these facts already, but I was surprised to hear that the entire Americas had no horses, no pigs, no cows, no goats, and no sheep, the reason having something to do with the Ice Age.

The main source of meat was actually bison, which roamed the lands in abundance.

In contrast, while Europe had all the domestic animals, they had no potatoes, no pumpkins, and no corn. What they had was wheat, resulting in a main diet of bread and porridge.

Corn as we know it today is not even a naturally growing food, so you will never find it in the wild. It was engineered by ancient farming tribes from the Americas using a plant called teosinte, so it was always grown in rows.

And you would think that all those great structures in Europe made everything better, but there were consequences like massive deforestation and a dwindling supply of fish.

Using Researched Facts in Fiction

So what does researched facts have to do with fiction?

Keeping all these little details in check really pushes the culture of your society.

If you’re a fantasy fiction writer like me, then you may be able to get away with a world where potatoes, pumpkins, and corn all co-exist. But why struggle to make a believable world when you have a wealth of knowledge right here in our own history that just makes so much sense.

It opened my eyes when my sister said that I should remove all contractions from the dialogue of my novel, King Larsen, since the story takes place in medieval days, something I’m still playing with.

Now if you’re writing historical fiction that’s based in Europe, or maybe even a tribe in the West Indies or the Americas, there’s no need to bore your readers with a long history lesson about all these things, leave that for school.

Just ease it in as the story goes, and remember to watch your corn and horses.

So what do you think about the role of historical facts in fiction writing? Let me know in the comments. And if you haven’t already, click here to read The King of Hansguard, this month’s trailer of my latest book, King Larsen.

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From → Writing Tips

  1. Thanks for sharing the historical facts you discovered about early America. Oh my gosh, I can’t believe they were limited to bison meat and no domestic animals roamed the country. Amazing! I’m considering a second novel with the setting in the 1940s. When I’m ready to write, I’ve got some history homework to do.

    • I couldn’t believe it either. And there are many other facts that I left out, like how domestic pigs from Europe evolved into wild boars.

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