Historical fiction allows for an imaginative reconstruction of people and events, bringing the past to life by adding colour, and building on the rich texture of days gone by. Many novelists rewrite history, to make amends, repair absences, close gaps, or give voices to the unheard. Make sure your research is accurate and writing convincing from – how they cook, bet or fight – their manners and morals – to stage-coaches and corsetry – even in how people behaved in matters of sex or smoking. Readers want to come away from the novel feeling that they have been entertained and have learned something.
GETTING IT RIGHT:
- Have an Exciting Start
Start the novel at an exciting point that is relevant to the main point of the story. “She was born on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.” Fiction mediates history, enlarging the scope of history so that we not only think differently but learn different things.
Regardless the period, the 1950s or the 1590s, characters behave in ways that are humanly recognizable. Those subtle characteristics cannot be found in history books.
The authenticity of historical fiction depends on your knowledge and use of historical detail. It is not enough to say a character walked down the street. The reader must be able to visualize the street, see the carriages, smell the smoke from the factories or the sewage in the gutter. If there are street vendors describe what they are selling. These details should be accurate and not recycled from old movies. Take a step back and decide: Could that have actually happened? Would he have said it that way? Could that thought have been running through her mind? If the answer is ‘yes’ then add that depth and richness to your story.
- Know the era
The author must know the specific period of time well enough to disappear daily through a wormhole, into the past, to arrive at the location of your story. You must understand the customs and use the manners perfectly; from people walking the streets or byways, how they dress, and make a living.
- Get Inspired
Use photos, letters, journals and music for inspiration. Let the characters engage with the historical details. This goes along with that “show don’t tell” truism. Rather than just dumping a bunch of facts on the reader, let your characters interact with these details, applying all senses. Let them smell the offal dumped onto the cobblestone streets. Let them squint in the fading light of the tallow candles. Let them feel the tingling sensation as the physician places leeches on bare skin.
- Use a Visual Approach
Focus on story, plot and character first, then wrap your ladies in ermine capes and have them entering marble halls, but don’t let your obsession with details lead the story or you’ll ruin it, and lose the reader.
- Create Strong Characters
Do not make your characters complicated. Build strong characters; people of their own time. Allow them to be bigoted or politically backwards. But, do not pass judgment on them, do not apologize for their mistakes, and do not attempt to make them all into free thinkers who are ahead of their times.
- Reduce your Characters
Too many characters are confusing to the reader. They make the story unnecessarily complicated and jarring.
- Edit, Edit, Edit
Ask yourself: Am I getting this right? Am I getting it close to being right? Am I doing this person a disservice? Edit out what is not needed. And get the facts right and you will have a story to sell.
“Linda has published fifteen books. She blogs about the publishing world, posts useful tips on the challenges a writer faces, including marketing and promoting your work, how to build your online platform, how to get reviews and how to self-publish.”