1. Jeremy8

    Jeremy8 New Member

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    A Newbie to The life of the Middle Ages

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Jeremy8, Dec 12, 2016.

    Hey, I just found this forum and I thought it would be a good place to ask things like this.

    So I've always been interested in fantasy as a genre. A song of ice and fire, Lord of the Rings, The Inheritance cycle, Witcher...

    One day I was bored and I thought, why not start writing something. I decided to start writing a medieval-themed fantasy. What my problem is that I really don't know a lot about the Medieval way of living, politics, culture etc. Not in a "formal" way. I'm not familiar with terms, titles, ranks.. Like, I don't know about Liege Lords, Jarls, Barons, counsellors, henchman, handmaid etc. Some of them I do know but my understanding of them is not so deep. So were I, for example, to use "Master of Coin" in my text, I might not be able to make things sound "fancy".

    I know that as it's fantasy, it doesn't have to be realistic but I want it to have something in common with the reality and not just be some " nonsense" at all times. What I also don't know is the Medieval clothing. Jerkins, breeches.. Can't think of more at the moment (I'm not a native speaker so there's that).

    The Internet doesn't give much information regarding these questions or it does but I would have to dig everywhere for it.

    So could anyone possibly recommend me books that are about Medieval way of life? History books that would shed light on the era and its way of life, statecraft, clothing, combat (weird names and terms for weapons, different names for horses and boats depending on their use etc)..
     
  2. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    Hey there, welcome to the forums!

    As a fellow fantasy writer, I cannot stress how important (and actually sorta fun) it is to watch documentary after documentary on things regarding that time period. A lot of people lump hundreds, if not thousands, of years into "Middle Ages" and its simply not true. You'll have a huge breadth of information to pull from just by understanding how things actually were. Then, once you've got that foundation, you can add all of those 'medieval' terms that aren't actually accurate. Because they do look really cool, I guess.

    I'd recommend learning about the Battle of Hastings, the Peasant's Revolt of 1381, the Hundred Years War, and the Wars of the Roses to get started. Youtube has a bunch of dry British documentaries to choose from!
     
  3. Dnaiel

    Dnaiel Senior Member

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    This looks like it might be useful. And check out the book recommendations on that page:

    Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders
    (Link not showing up) found at Amazon

    Here are some links. My search strategy was google: how to write a medieval novel
    There are a lot more links there.

    How to Write a Medieval Fantasy Novel
    http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Medieval-Fantasy-Novel

    Researching the Medieval
    http://www.literary-liaisons.com/article012.html

    Writing Medieval Dialogue
    http://www.lisashea.com/medievalromance/writingmedievaldialogue.html

    Pitfalls of Writing About the Medieval Ages
    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140602184602-44958135-pitfalls-of-writing-about-the-medieval-ages

    Using Medieval Towns as Story Settings
    http://www.irosf.com/q/zine/article/10074

    Medieval Fiction books list
    http://www.medievalists.net/fiction/
     
  4. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Staff Contributor

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    Welcome from me too :)

    There is nothing more fun than getting up to scratch. So cherish your research, and your writing will be all the better for it - not to mention that you might learn loads of stuff you never knew existed or would be interesting.
     
  5. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    They lived at a strange time. You know how we think of the past and think of it as simpler and lower tech? It was the opposite to them. They made meager livings and had simple lives, but lived under the constant reminder of the ruins that life had once been better for people. They didn't know the extent of what was lost by the classicism civilization, even Newton believed that the ancients knew things that he didn't: he thought they knew how to make gold for one.
     
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  6. halisme

    halisme Contributor Contributor

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    My (amateur) expertise is primarily in armour and weapons, so if you have any questions to ask on those subjects, go for it.
     
  7. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    Especially true for Italy per-renaissance. They were living with physical proof that their ancestors had their shit together. All that Roman architecture probably made them feel pretty poor about themselves.
     
  8. antlad

    antlad Banned

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    I will give different advice.
    You sound like you don't write much. If that is the case, start off writing small (several paragraphs) scenes. When you learn something new, write a small scene featuring it. Build up the habit of writing while researching what you want to write.
     
  9. halisme

    halisme Contributor Contributor

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    It's worth noting that the thing that life for peasants didn't really change. The Roman empire did not educate them, they could not afford slaves, and a lot of public works that were built by the Romans were focused on Italy, or were roads which were still there when they left.

    Trade routes still existed and were further expanded upon by groups like the Vikings and Mongols, allowing ideas to flow across Eurasia more easily. Not to mention the decline of slavery, and the mathematics that were developed by the Islamic world and spread via conquest and trade. Not to mention that a lot of happened was recorded and the reason for the lack of knowledge was more due to a lack of interest, with the majority of texts being stored by the catholic church in monasteries.

    Not to mention that the decay of the Roman empire was a slow, and gradual process, and if you believe the Byzantines, didn't truly fall till the 1400s.
     
  10. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    My main interest in history tends to be about farming and crops, so the first question in my mind was: Does your fantasy world have a potato equivalent?

    The potato was a high-yielding nutritious fairly reliable crop, introduced to populations that were dependent on relatively low-yielding, fragile, lower-nutrition grain crops. After it became widespread, populations were no longer constantly on the edge of famine, and the diseases resulting from famine were also reduced. If the potato were widely grown during the period of the Great Famine and the Black Death, I suspect that both disasters would have been much smaller. (No, I don't have a reference at hand.) In general, the potato changed Europe.

    Of course, then the Irish potato famine changed it in less pleasant ways, but all the same, the potato is an example of one detail that has a very large impact on society, and in a fantasy world, you can change all those details that you want. A productive, easy to grow, easy to prepare, easy to store, protein-rich tuber with plenty of Vitamin C and other nutrients...if you imagined the potato, people might say that it was too good to be believable.
     
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  11. Jeremy8

    Jeremy8 New Member

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    Thanks for all the replies, I will prepare some questions tomorrow.


    Just curious(off topic), are you writing for fun, as a hobby or are you doing it for living? Are you authors who have actually published novels/short stories or others types of books?
     
  12. halisme

    halisme Contributor Contributor

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    Hobby with hope of publishing. At the moment, I write low fantasy set at the end of the middle ages, though some technology is slightly more advanced.
     
  13. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    You could do much worse than get hold of Ian Mortimer's The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England. It contains exactly what you're looking for ...what life was like on the ground for normal people during that period. While politics differed throughout Europe during that period, most people lived more or less the same way, depending on climate. Because you're writing fantasy, I think you'll find a lot here to inspire you. It's written in a very lively and accessible way.

    Chapter titles are:
    The Landscape (by that, they mean what buildings, farms, halls, castles looked like, as much as the terrain itself)
    The People
    The Medieval Character
    Basic Essentials (languages, dates, time measurement, units of measurement, identity (names and titles, etc), manners and politeness, shopping, money, prices, working and wages)
    What to Wear
    Travelling
    Where to Stay
    What to Eat and Drink
    Health and Hygiene
    The Law
    What to Do (music, dancing, games and other pastimes such as jousting, hunting, etc.)
     
  14. Jeremy8

    Jeremy8 New Member

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    I had many questions but I think I've already forgotten some.

    Even though fantasy doesn't have to follow real history, would it be appropriate to use terms such as Evolution? Say I write a scene (or a chapter, not sure of the terms in literature) in which my character meets a sorceress or any other intelligent being. They were to have a conversation on a topic and then the other intelligent being decides to use an example of the discussed matter. So would it be stupid to say something like "It's the work of evolution, for that type magic differs drastically...". In this context evolution would be a symbol of difference rather than Darwin's theory. But still, would it be stupid to use such terms not yet introduced in the particular era?

    Also, I have difficulties with finding good names for characters. I can find thousands of medieval names but most of them sound horrific. I mean you only need to look at a song of ice and fire to see that most names aren't weird or sound bad. However whenever I try to search for names I end up getting something like "Michelberganledia" or something utterly horrific.

    I'm also looking for town and city names. More specifically the endings of the names like -run, -dale, -grad, -fell. Any sites or ways to discover more of these and understand the process of naming places?

    And also, why is it that some people have proper last names and some don't. For example many people have " of <insert name here>" as a last name. An example: Randall of Heldenberg, James of Hordentown. But then some people don't have it and their names are for example: James Delvington, Jenny Bender.

    And what kind of "borrowing" of certain elements from other authors can be considered stealing? Take Witcher. Geralt or Rivia, one of the main characters, has two swords, a silver and a steel sword. One for humans one of non-humans. Now if I had something similar in my story, would that be stealing? I'm not talking about the plot but about elements of characters and things of the various fictional worlds.

    Could someone shed some light on these questions?

    Also I have not yet checked the sources you have linked here though I will do it right now.
     
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2016
  15. Dnaiel

    Dnaiel Senior Member

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    Back in those days, the more common folk often had but one name; no last or middle names. When you encountered the more esteemed or important folk (read "rich and powerful"), names became more involved for various reasons. While it wasn't as important for Jacob of the potato farm to pass around a surname, politics and such necessitated it for a king who married off his child to another king's family, and similar matters.

    Over time, the names evolved. Son of David would become David's son, then Davidson, for example.

    From Encarta:

     
  16. halisme

    halisme Contributor Contributor

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    In terms of names, a lot of them haven't changed as much as you think. I'd recommend looking up Germanic, Celtic, and Pict names and mutating them yourself slightly. That way you can get something familiar and unique, not to mention a lot of English names coming from these language groups. You can also add vikings in if you want as well, though it will change the flavour slightly.

    In terms of place names, run is normally associated with rivers if I remember correctly, being where the river runs, while dale is associated with valleys and the Yorkshire dales. Grad means town or settled in Slavic languages and, as for Fell, not a clue. Some other ones that might be useful are -mouth and -port for costal cities, the former specific to rivers. -Field, -Pit and -Ham are also useful. The best way to name places is to look at the resources it produces or the area around it in terms of geography, and start shortening it down. The best real-world example for shoret to me is Snot's Hamlet, Not's Hamlet, Not's Ham, Nottingham
     
  17. ginkgo88

    ginkgo88 New Member

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    Listen, if you're writing a historical fantasy then my advice is to do whatever you want. Make a few solid attempts at historical accuracy but don't sweat it if it isn't perfect or if something is anachronistic. Why should a fantasy world have developed in precisely the same way as this one? Heck, this world didn't even develop in precisely the same way depending on which continent, country, etc you're considering and what era you're studying.

    Anyway, and I just linked this in another thread about 17th century hunting, but here's a free ebook on project gutenberg about Manners, Custom and Dress During the Middle Ages and During the Renaissance Period by Paul Lacroix.
     
  18. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    A few "constructions" for place names...
    -field = field, so that Wednesfield is Woden's field.
    -bury = town (borough) so Wednesbury is Woden's town
    -ford = ford (across a river) so Hednesford is Woden's (Welsh nouns mutate, meaning the beginning of the word can change as well as the ending) ford
    -eye = island, as in Ramsey, Bardsey, Ely (and there is the lovely crossword word eyot, meaning an island in a river)
    Aber- = mouth of..., as in Abersoch
    Ynys = island, as in Ynysgifillog, or Ynys Mon

    As far as names like James of Hordentown... you'd only use the "surname" if you knew several James's, and you wanted to avoid confusion (so more commonly in a legal document). It's why there is a Welsh tradition of nicknames...when everybody's called either Jones or Evans or Dai, you need to differentiate them...so you get Jones the Goat (for his sexual prowess), Dai Central 'Eating (for his missing side teeth), Evans Above (because he lived in an upstairs flat).

    Also, with names like James of Hordentown, is it because he comes from Hordentown (Ludwig van Beethoven is one of those) or because he owns Hordentown (Baron Manfred von Richtofen is one of those!)

    And if you want a list of real names from history that nobody's used before, you could do worse than look at http://www.pase.ac.uk/index.html
     
  19. Seren

    Seren Writeaholic

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    I'm not a huge expert, but I also write fantasy so I regularly have to hop onto the internet and remind myself of different armour parts, clothing, weapons and the like. The internet can solve your basic, urgent questions. I don't know anything specifically about medieval horses, but I have a horse of my own so I can answer any basic questions you have about parts of the horse and tack, or their different gaits and so on.

    The names for your characters don't necessarily have to sound medieval. Really, all they need to do is not sound modern. Many names in the fantasy genre aren't actually names at all: the author just made them up. So, you could do that, or alternatively you could look at one of my favourite websites ever. Nameberry! Baby name websites are incredibly useful for authors, and Nameberry has hundreds and hundreds of lists. I'm sure I saw a medieval list a while back inspired by The Last Kingdom, and you can also just type "medieval" into the search box and see what names come up. Alternatively, nick some different names from books set in this time period. Unless they were made up by the author and are incredibly unique, no one should mind.

    Finally, I'd recommend you take a look at fantasynamegenerators.com because you'll never feel stuck about how to name your town/character/army/castle/river/beach/sweet shop/pet dragon/demon/amusement park/sword/mermaid/film studio ever again. There is a name generator for everything. Even if I don't use a name from the generator I'm looking at, it always inspires a different one.
     
  20. bonijean2

    bonijean2 Ancient Artists And Storytellers Rock

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    Human nature has basically stayed similar through out the ages; however, what seems to make a difference between one culture and another is the affect that politics, religion and access to resources has upon the people in a particular region.
     

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