Today we have a guest post that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. (Even before I asked them to write it! I’ve been admiring from afar and all that jazz.) Besides impressing me with their amazing ability to speak every language ever (including computers! They speak with computers, aahhh howww?), they always have the super coolest premises for their writing. Let’s listen in as Antonius dispenses their wisdom!
Mary Poppins sang “Just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”, but I would like to adjust that: “Just a spoonful of facts makes the fantasy go down”. What do I mean by that? I mean that by researching and using facts, it will strengthen both your other-world fantasy and any other fiction.
To me, fiction is about presenting something that rings true. Even when suspension of disbelief is necessary (“all/some humans have developed the ability to fly”), readers should be able to nod along with your world. How do you do that? Well, most important is to keep your world’s rules consistent–even if it is a consistency that the reader won’t spot for a while–and the second is to get inspiration from reality.
> Did you know that long before western Norsemen (current Norway/Denmark mainly) attacked England–which kicked off what is referred to as the “Viking Age”–eastern Norsemen (current Sweden) had traveled into Russia and other countries east of Scandinavia? By 1000AD, Norsemen had traveled as far as Constantinople and Baghdad, and traded with both Christians and Muslims.
“But,” I hear you object, “that’s all well and good for anything set in our world, but what if I write other-world fantasy?” Even then, says I. Get inspiration from various cultures, try to get an understanding for them, and see what you can use. What weird facts do you know, and can that help you build a richer world? You don’t even need to mention it, not always. If you know that the streets of your city are covered with cobblestone imported from a nearby kingdom and that the workers were convicts, that’s going to influence how you describe things.
> Did you know that Erik Håkonsson (957–1024), Jarl of northern Norway, and later Jarl of Northumberland, wasn’t born in wedlock? In fact, his mother was a thrall, though his father was a jarl. It wasn’t until Christianity had ruled Scandinavia for half a millennia that being born outside of wedlock stopped a child from inheriting from their father.
Now, you write fiction, not historical documents, so don’t write dissertations about the cool things you found regarding 15th century courting habits in the middle classes of Korea. You may, however, need to spread a few bits of fact in there to show naysayer’s that you do know what you’re writing about, and to support more unusual choices in characters or settings.
> Did you know that within their sphere, women were as powerful–if not more–than men? It was the land owner’s wife who had the keys to the food stores, and when the men were unavailable, it was up to her to defend the lands in case of an attack. Gender roles were firm, but women were not seen as lesser in the same sense that has been historically true in Western Christianity-influenced society. While parents arranged marriages for girls as young as twelve or thirteen (though generally with similarly-aged boys), a woman could divorce her husband for mistreating her, or mistreating their children, or for not keeping her satisfied sexually. Children were divided up between the mother’s and father’s family in case of divorce.
What counts as “unusual choices”? That depends on what you’re writing. As an example, let me present Helga Yngvesdotter (Helga, daughter of Yngve), a fictional character in one of my stories set in late 900s. She is far from the “rye blonde Nordic viking man” stereotype, but each step of the way I can “justify” if I ever needed to (and felt like giving anyone who’d object the time of day).
Her father was the Jarl of Håkeby (Håkeby existed at the time), and her mother was a Nubian raided from her homeland and sold as a slave in Constantinople. When her father and step-mother (her mother died when she was only seven, and her father remarried) were executed by the King’s men–as an example of what would happen to those that kept their faith true rather than converting to Christianity–she decided that since she had no brothers or uncles, the duty to avenge her father came to her.
Women would rarely be recognized as war leaders, but with the society as focused on personal strength and retribution, she could use that to gain the loyalty of the few of her father’s subjects who were still alive.
I at least enjoyed researching all the things that eventually coalesced into Helga, the last priestess of Ran, and I hope you will enjoy it too, once her story is published.
Antonius M. works with the literary speculative fiction genre, weaving threads of the human experience—historic and contemporary—on the loom of Scandinavian folklore. These experiences include trauma, mental health, first love, being transgender, and being a stranger. Their first publication is Solitary Duality in the anthology Summer Nights.