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The Art of Writing Historical Fiction with a Magical Twist

Shana Abe  Photo credit: Nikos Kopidaki

Shana Abe
Photo credit: Nikos Kopidaki

Shana Abé is the author of The Time Weaver, The Treasure Keeper, Queen of Dragons, The Dream Thiefand The Smoke Thief. The Sweetest Dark is her latest book, filled with thrilling romance, exciting adventure, and ancient magic. Abé shares with us the true key to writing good historical, magical fiction.

By Shana Abé
Published: April 18, 2013

The gift of distance can be a valuable asset to a fiction writer. I’m referring to the distance of time and place, of course, but also of culture, of zeitgeist. The most wonderful stories are the ones that pull you in hard, taking over any natural inclination to lean toward the mundane. When writing about magic, that delicate veil of distance only helps.

Distance eases disbelief, and the willingness of an audience to suspend disbelief is crucial for a magical tale.

TheSweetestDarkI write about dragons, and I set my stories in the past. You might intuitively conjure a medieval setting when thinking about dragons, but my drákon are actually shapeshifters, able to assume a human façade, and the Sweetest Dark Series sets them at the wild and isolated edge of southern England, near the deceptively slow beginning of World War I.

It was the end of the Edwardian era, a time when buggies and gaslight were being replaced with automobiles and electricity. It was a period of great elegance, yet also thrilling scientific advances. Today we take our telephones for granted, but imagine never having seen one before—much less dreamed of talking directly to someone miles away. Imagine never having touched an electric light switch to invoke instant illumination; never having ridden in the roaring mechanical beasts we call cars.

Imagine seeing an airship for the very first time, gliding slowly and silently over your city, dropping bombs.

Imagine, imagine.

These are just a few of the situations confronting Lora Jones, the young heroine of The Sweetest Dark. It was exciting enough placing her in them—but how much more exciting it was to throw a little magic into the mix.

Bear with me, and stretch your imagination just a bit further:

You’re a lonely, orphaned teenager fixed in a rapidly changing and dangerous world. You live with music that no one else can hear following you about, filling your head. A sly voice inside you insists that you are far more perilous than any of your surroundings. You see things, sense things, feel things that escape everyone else around you.

Part of you knows you’re half-asleep, a dreamer ready to wake and take command of your life and these strange powers that plague you. But another part is sure that none of this is real; that you are and always will be ordinary and unloved.

Lora might have been any teen in any era, but settling her in 1915 makes the magic even more potent. Instead of jeans and t-shirts, she wears shirtwaists and long skirts. Her hair is pinned, her body corseted. She’s grapping with zeppelins and self-identity and fitting in at a new school—all matters any of us might have had to contend with in her stead.

Time and distance are fine things, as I’ve said. But the true key to writing good historical, magical fiction is to keep the humanity in the supernatural. Keep the common threads that bind us as people to every time and place, near and far.

Because in the end, Lora Jones still just a girl, albeit one secretly glimmering with the potential to become much more. That’s what makes her drákon, and that’s also what makes her human.

And all of that is what makes for an excellent tale.

Add this book to your collection: The Sweetest Dark

For more information about Shana Abé, visit: http://www.shanaabe.com

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Bianca Schulze is the founder of The Children’s Book Review. She is a reader, reviewer, mother and children’s book lover. She also has a decade’s worth of experience working with children in the great outdoors. Combined with her love of books and experience as a children’s specialist bookseller, the goal is to share her passion for children’s literature to grow readers. Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, she now lives with her husband and three children near Boulder, Colorado.

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