8 Things I Use to Help Write a Story/Scene in a Medieval Setting

Hey everyone! I haven’t done a writing tip in some time, so I figured this week would be the time to do one. Now this one is a little different as it’s more focused on a specific setting: medieval. My favorite setting to write in is medieval. Now, I generally write historical fantasy, which is a genre where the world is a secondary world, not the real life world, but there’s not too much magical fantastical elements. However, these things can be used to write historical fiction, any type of fantasy, and really any story or scene set in a medieval setting. These are not in any particular order as to my preference, but all have helped me with writing in a medieval setting before. 

1. The Chronicles of Narnia Movies

For the longest times, these three movies were some of my favorites. I mention these because they’re a fun way to learn and visualize some medieval settings. Obviously these are fantasy as well, so if you’re writing historical fiction, keep that in mine, but these are some really great movies to watch to get inspiration for a medieval scene. 

The first two movies especially have been useful for me in writing sword fights and different battles. The last movie is set on the sea, so if you’re writing a book about vikings, let’s say, then that would be a good one to watch for sea battles. 

For Historical Fiction Writers: If you write historical fiction and would rather watch a film without fantasy elements, try my current all time favorite movie, The Crusades (1935) by Cecil B. DeMille. As the name states, it focuses on the Third Crusade, specifically on Richard the Lionhearted. While not totally true to history, there are no fantasy elements involved in it. Also, it’s free to watch on Youtube.

2. The Legends of King Arthur

Ah yes, one of my favorites. I love the Legends of King Arthur, especially the podcast and book retelling by Paul Vincent, which keeps everything as the original authors had it, but just put it in modern language and embellished it a little. The podcast is free on Apple Podcasts if you want to listen to it (I’m not sure if it is on Androids).

Whether you listen to the podcast or just read the old legends, they’re good because, first of all, Le Morte d’Arthur, the first complete collection of the legend, was written by Sir Thomas Malory, a knight, in the 15th century. While at the end of the medieval period, the book still is a medieval manuscript and much of the stories were written much earlier by various French and English authors. 

The legends themselves idealize knights and also show a good glimpse into what medieval life may have been like. Also there’s plenty of battles, drama, and romance, so they’re just fun to read in general. 

For Further Reading: If you’re a little obsessed with the Legends of King Arthur like I am and would like to read and/or discuss more about it, read my other two King Arthur posts here and here, and write your discussion prompt in the comments. I’d love to talk about it with you!

3. Resistance by Jaye L. Knight

Resistance is a Christian Fantasy book written by Jaye L. Knight as the first in her Ilyon Chronicles series. Now, I’ll put two disclaimers up front. If you’re writing historical fiction or any other sort of fiction other than fantasy, this may not help you, since this is pretty much fantasy through and through, complete with made up creatures and characters with unusual abilities (though I don’t believe there is any magic). It also is set in a more pre-medieval setting, like, in a Roman era time period. 

However, much of the Roman era things crossed over into the medieval time period and thus this book could be used to jolt some ideas around, especially for Fantasy writers. There are battles, an evil emperor, one religion persecuting another, duels, jail escapes, and so on, which all could be used in a medieval setting. Even if you don’t write fantasy, I might give this book a try, as you never know! It could give you some ideas.

For Further Reading: I mentioned this book was the first in a series by Jaye L. Knight. However I didn’t mention the other books because I haven’t yet read them. However, if they’re as good as the first one, I would probably recommend them as well, so check them out too if you find you like the first one!

4. Gladiator (2000)

The Gladiator is one of my favorite movies, and yes, obviously it’s also set in the Roman era, not medieval times. But as I mentioned before, many things in the Roman era and medieval time overlap. I will give a disclaimer: this movie is rated R, but it’s because of the violence, not because of anything else. I don’t believe it’s that bad, as the camera moves quick, but those who are unsettled by blood and some gore may not want to watch this movie. 

However, like the Narnia movies, this movie does a good job showing battle scenes realistically, which can be some of the toughest scenes to write well. It’s also more historical (though not true to history exactly) so it would work well for writers of fantasy and historical fiction alike. 

Secondary Movie: If, perhaps, you want something more medieval to watch, or you don’t like seeing blood, then another good movie to watch is Ivanhoe (1952). Not only is it clean, it’s medieval, and a couple of really good older actors are in it, including Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Fontaine. 

5. The Comrades of Honor series by Alicia A. Willis

Now this book series can be for both the fantasy and historical fiction writers out there, as it’s more historical with no fantasy elements whatsoever, save for a fictitious earldom and characters. In fact, these books are similar in setting to the books I write, which make them fun reads. They are pretty historically sound for the time period in which they’re set, and there’s many fun facts about medieval England where the author sets the story which can be useful for writers. 

The stories themselves are stand alones, though they connect as well, and I actually have only read books one and three, skipping two altogether. The first one is more of a character based novel, whereas the third has more of a sound plot. Of the two, the third book is my favorite, using one of my favorite tropes (though I still have some questions about the historical accuracy of some situations in the book) and inspiring some of my favorite story ideas. 

Book Review: I actually have a book review on the first book, if you’d like to see if it would be worth your money. You can read that here.

6. The Chronicles of Narnia Soundtrack

One thing which almost always improves my writing is listening to music. For many of my scenes set in medieval times, the Narnia soundtracks have given me inspiration, from battle scenes to romances and even characters joking around the fire. All three movies have their soundtracks on Youtube now, and many have the extended and actual movie scores on there as well. Try listening to some music when you write your scenes and see what happens. Just make sure the vibe of the music fits that of the scene! 

Any Other Music? Yup, there’s plenty of other soundtracks and instrumentals out there which I’ve found beneficial. Things like the Patriot soundtrack, the Gladiator soundtrack, and other movies have benefited me while writing my scenes. There are also some instrumental groups out there, not connected to any movies. Some of those groups which I would recommend checking out on Youtube are HDsounDI, Audiomachine, Two Steps From Hell, Fox Sailor, and Really Slow Motion. 

7. G.A. Henty books

Being raised homeschooled, G.A Henty books are pretty big in the homeschooler world. However, for any writer, especially historical fiction writers, some of these books would be good to read, especially in your specific time period you’re writing in. In fact, it was a G.A Henty book which helped inspire my main medieval series. 

Now, they’re not the most enjoyable books to read, especially after reading three or four of them, as they get pretty cookie-cutterish plot wise. But for historical details and events, they’re really very detailed and provide a little more entertainment than just reading about an event out of a history book. Also, they may provide you with an idea of how a character might escape a twelfth century prison, for example.

G.A Henty’s medieval titles include: 

The Dragon and the Raven (870-901): Focuses on King Alfred.

Wulf the Saxon (1066): Focuses on William the Conqueror defeating King Harold.

Winning His Spurs (1188-1192): Focuses on King Richard and the Third Crusade.

In Freedom’s Cause (1296-1314): Focuses on William Wallace and Robert the Bruce.

St. George For England (1337-1453): Focuses on the battles of Cressy and Poitiers, the destruction of the Spanish fleet, and the Black Death.

The Lion of St. Mark (1380): Focuses on Venice defending herself against her jealous rival city-states. 

A March on London (1381): Focuses on Wat the Tyler’s peasant revolt.

Both Sides of the Border (1400-1403): Focuses on Hotspur, Glendower, and the Welsh Rebellion against Henry IV.

At Agincourt (1413-1415): Focuses on the White Hoods of Paris and the battle of Agincourt in the 100 Years’ War.

A Knight of the White Cross (1470-1480): Focuses on the Knights Hospitaller’s defense of Rhodes. 

For Fantasy Writers: If you’d rather a book with a little more fantasy elements in it, try The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope. This book, along with the G.A Henty book I mentioned above, inspired my main work in progress, a historical fantasy. Filled with adventure, political intrigue, romance and sword fights, it’s a fun and somewhat educational read. 

8. Good Old Fashioned History

Photo by Maria Pop on Pexels.com

There’s nothing more interesting (and sometimes eery) as actual, historical events. Obviously historical fiction authors need these events in their stories to be called historical fiction, but even fantasy and other genre writers can use them for inspiration. In one of his books, fantasy writer George R. R. Martin used the historical event known as “The Black Dinner” for one of his most famous scenes. 

There are many historical events which are intriguing, mysterious, romantic, adventurous, and fun to imagine. Even in the Bible, there are lots of interesting situations which Biblical characters find themselves in. Even a historical event in the 1800s, such as riding a raft on the way to the Oregon, could be changed enough and used for a medieval scene. 

Where to start? If you don’t know where to start looking, I’d suggest researching the time period you want to set your story in. The Middle Ages are split into three parts by most historians, the Early Middle Ages (~500 to 999 AD), the High Middle Ages (1000 to 1300 AD), and the Late Middle Ages (1301 to ~1500 AD). Each has its own unique events, culture, legends and lore, and so on. Read some non-fiction books focusing on medieval events, study the history of medieval castles and nobility. Learn about the Knights Templar and Hospitaller. For quick and basic (but not always reliable) research, Wikipedia is a good place to search. 

I hope some of these things will help you write your medieval stories and scenes! If you have any tips, or find one of these especially helpful let me know in the comments below! What sort of scene do you find hardest to write? Romantic or battle scenes? Do you write fantasy, historical fiction, or another genre entirely? What is your favorite time period to write in? Let me know in the comments below! Thank you for reading, and God bless! ~ Kay Adelin

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