Sunday, 16 March 2008

Rules for Writing Prehistoric Historical Fiction

And now, a vital set of rules for the Jean Auels de nos jours:


by Sarah L. Johnson

1. The good guys will always be members of Homo Sapiens or one of this species’ ancestors, while the bad guys will be ugly flat-headed Neanderthals.

2. During each novel at least one major historical accomplishment will be made, e.g., the discovery of fire, invention of the wheel, building of Stonehenge.

3. The males will be given easily pronounceable one-syllable names because, as we all know, language was more primitive back then. Female names will be similar to male names with the addition of the letter ‘a’ on the end All names should form part of the vocabulary of any normal 21st-century infant, e.g., Dog and Ooga.

4. At least one member of the tribe will correctly prophesy future events, such as the coming of a great wall of ice which will overwhelm the land, but nobody will believe him/her.

5. The heroine, despite having been betrothed since childhood to the most skilful hunter of her tribe, will choose instead to run away with the hero, a member of a despised rival tribe. Her original betrothed will turn out to be mean and cruel, justifying her decision.

6. In novels set in prehistoric Europe, the cave paintings at Lascaux will make at least one appearance in the story.

7. Most tribal members will be able to speak telepathically with animals, an ability that modern man has no doubt lost long since.

8. Tribal mythology will be built around worship of the sun, moon, and the correct balance of the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water.

9. For more advanced societies, religion will center around the worship of a great Mother Goddess, the progenitor of the goddess worshipped by the ancient Celts. The heroine will be the tribe’s priestess-in-training.

10. While prehistoric men will be permitted to have more than one wife, for women adultery is a charge punishable by death. The hero is the one male of the tribe who believes in monogamy.

Sarah Johnson is the Historical Novel Society’s book review editor. Her reference book Historical Fiction: A Guide to the Genre was recently named an Editors’ Choice title by Booklist. She lives in rural Charleston, Illinois, with one husband, three cats, and way too many books, mostly historical novels. Sarah's blog is Reading the Past.

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