How to Write a Horatio Hornblower Fanfic

You've bookmarked the useful websites. Now it's time to have fun.

warship | Andrew Neel

You start at work. In the morning meeting. Right opposite you sits Derek. Derek is nice. Bakes a cake for every office function, cuts you an extra-large piece, whether you want it or not, and then keeps checking your plate until you quietly feed its contents to the office plant. Still, if you lifted his slightly crumpled shirt, you would see the coagulated extra twenty pounds of “Who needs the gym? I take the stairs. Twice last month,” and not the adorable vertical depressions of the golden abs that would bounce pennies.

Next to Derek is Len. Len has got that whole “dark and intense, my-nonna-is-from-Milano” look going. But Len is married and having a baby. Yesterday, he called everyone to the boardroom for a half-hour video of a fetus in the Charlie Chaplin black and white. From the ultrasound. Then, round the table, are Chrissy, Joanna and Tanisha, but you just don’t swing that way. Jim, the managing partner, is fifty-eight; followed by some temp guy whose name nobody remembers and… that’s that. Where, you wonder, is Horatio Hornblower when you need him?

Probably on deck of HMS Hotspur, you think. Cutting across the billowing… billowing and heaving… sea. Something is… ummm… groaning. The rigging, that’s what. So, yeah, heaving, billowing and groaning. Then he raises his arm – the bicep bulges under that spiffy uniform he’s got – and shouts… What does he shout? Something awfully rousing and nautical. The actual words are not important. Because, suddenly, from below deck, you emerge in a flow of a creamy Empire gown. He spots you, opens his sharply drawn sexy mouth, and says,

“What about you, have you got anything you want to share with the team today?”

All right, that wasn’t Horatio. That was Jim. You mumble, 

“Yes. No. I mean, I’m up to date with everything and don’t have anything special to report.” They leave you for dead and you get right back to it. Except now, night has fallen. The ship is deserted. Apparently, it propels itself unguided across all that heaving and billowing. Horatio firmly encircles your waist, looks into your eyes, and says, 

“Darling, I have waited for this moment my entire life.” Well, not his entire life. He can’t have been waiting to fondle some woman in an Empire gown when he was five. Empire gowns weren’t yet fashionable back then.

Then he draws his burning lips down your throat, and you tremble, while his deft fingers… wait. No, seriously, wait. He’s got to get you naked, right?  Otherwise, what’s the point? It’s at least two full pages we’re looking at, and you better be naked for this one. Question is, how? Those Empire dresses, so tight around the bust, how did they take them off? Obviously, they did not have zippers in the back, but what did they have? Hooks? Buttons? And wouldn’t it look rather ungainly, having to pull it off over your head?

As soon as the meeting breaks up, you get to Googling. History of costume, Georgian era. Or Regency? Regency starts in 1811. But, drat, when applied to fashions, it is used loosely. If you need 1803, you’d better try both “Georgian” and “Regency.” Oh, don’t forget “Empire.” Just be careful – fashion changes. You read about pelisses at length, and realize you are wasting your time, because none of it is bringing you any closer to getting naked in Horatio’s embrace.

In fact, over the next two weeks, you’ll be doing a lot of it. No, not getting naked. But spending hours trying to figure out how to put together a sentence. “He pushed away the dessert plate, threw down his…” His what? Spoon or fork? Did they already have dessert forks at the time? Did the term “dessert plate” even exist? What kind of dessert, incidentally? And could you get dessert aboard a “sloop of war,” or did they live on dried-up things and water?

Everything proves to be a bitch. Fine, you might manage to skim over a few things, and you research the crap out of cordage (did you really need to know the meaning of “a haylard,” just for an hour of fun with Horatio?), but you can’t entirely skip conversation, can you? And how could you possibly know – if you didn’t think to check – that having Horatio say, “This is the point of no return,” would make you, the author, look like an absolute idiot? Since “the point of no return” is a term from air navigation, used to refer to the point on a flight when a plane is no longer capable of returning to the airfield it started from. It entered popular culture after the publication of the 1947 novel Point of No Return by John P. Marquand, which Horatio could not have read. But not like it’s your fault. Seriously.

That’s not all. There is the whole unfortunate idea of C. S. Forester’s, where he went and gave Horatio a wife, Maria. Right around the time of HMS Hotspur. So you have to deal with that one. Do your viles draw Horatio away from Maria and cause him to become a cheating bastard? Or was a bit of a dalliance par for the course in those times? Can you, burned by the “point of no return,” say “par for the course”? Where does this phrase even come from?

But, in the end, it all works out. You’ve managed to squeeze yourself in right between Horatio assuming command of HMS Hotspur and his marriage to Maria. In fact, it was you – the minx – who broke Horatio’s heart and caused him to get married to the rather indifferent Maria because no woman could possibly compare to you. He understood that and did not even bother to try. But he always, always carried your… portrait? miniature? And kept it hidden inside his… desk? trunk? Oh, hell, onboard a ship, underneath his pillow. Did they sleep in beds, bunks or hammocks? Did they have pillows?

The good news, however, is that it gets easier. You’ve bookmarked the useful websites, can correctly order the royal, the topgallant, and the topsail, and have learned about the varied uses of castor oil. Now you can have fun. Fortunately, the basic mechanics of sex have changed relatively little (though the range of acceptable sexual practices in different eras could easily be the subject of a history PhD). So go ahead. Enjoy yourself. As long as you manage to forget about venereal disease, peculiarities of nineteenth century personal hygiene, and rampant sodomy. But, hey, it’s a fanfic, after all. You are entitled.

About Rachel Cohen (6 Articles)
Rachel Cohen is a lawyer practicing in the field of international criminal law. Since she has to stick to the truth in her day job, when she writes fiction, she lies.

2 Comments on How to Write a Horatio Hornblower Fanfic

  1. Oh, I loved this! It’s wonderful, hilarious, and so true. This is exactly what writing period fanfiction feels like. But when you take the time to get it right, research the details, think about the state of technology, politics, and culture, and use appropriate idioms, the story becomes so much more immersive and satisfying. Not to mention maybe a little bit educational! Personally, I like a bit of realism in my stories. A ring of truth makes it so much easier to relax into the story and believe it. 🙂 Kudos to you!

    • FAN/FIC Magazine // August 2, 2016 at 11:13 am // Reply

      We couldn’t agree more. It’s the details that really bring the story to life. It’s world-building at its best.

      Thanks so much for reading!

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