Writing Tips Round Up: Historical Fiction4 min read
A weekly round up of writing advice and inspiration
“Still, unless you’re writing a comic, parodic novel, you probably wouldn’t make your sulky, hair-tossing Roman teenager say “Whatevs!” But “authenticity” is a chimera too, because meanings slide: the mid-to-late 15th century Paston letters are perfectly readable, but their shrewd translates to our hurtful, child to our servant, and take to our give: how much confusion would those create in your story?”
Historia Mag’s latest writer “agony aunt” column is a fantastic how-to in getting the character voice and dialogue accurate yet readable in historical fiction.
“Give your protagonists and other major characters dignity and your fiction will be enriched. Writers can make the mistake that rural characters, impoverished characters, or characters living in the past were dumb, were country grotesques, thought and spoke in simple, uncomplicated ways. Just because someone is poor, or lived 100 years before me that does not mean the character is beneath me.”
Fiction Southeast lays out all the different types of historical fiction you might choose to venture into – classic, epic, military, romantic – and sets down some solid rules to live by ( I love the above tip on giving your poor characters some dignity!)
“Someone who tackles research/setting/environment first, plot and characters second, is a real turn-off for me. I want to read about real people who think and breathe, whenever or wherever they live. Only put something in an historical setting if it has to be there – if that adds uniquely to the plot.”
This article from Curtis Brown Creative helpfully collects perspectives on writing and reading historical fiction from authors in the fields as well as literary agents and publishers. One to check before you submit your own manuscript!
“I took the advice of Robert Graves, author of I, Claudius. His first rule for writing historical fiction is not to use your research, or at any rate to use only a tenth of it. Graves warns against ‘the temptation to stick in facts just because you’ve discovered them. In the best historical fiction, the reader can sense the presence of the research that isn’t being used, out there in the shadows…”
Historical fiction writer Linda Weste describes the main challenges of the genre and how she tackled them by consulting the advice of the masters of the genre.
“Your readers are looking for a story. If they wanted all the extra information that you can’t resist putting in, they’ll read a proper history book or take to Wikipedia. And too much information gets in the way of the story.”
The devil’s in the details – but too much detail may drive your readers off. Kotobee have some quick tips on getting the balance right in the details of historical fiction.
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