In 2017, I asked readers and authors to look under the covers of historical fiction and examine what sets the genre apart and makes it tick. Today, I’ve gathered together various insights that resonate for me.
Historical fiction adds context to modern-day social problems … my preferred approach is to let characters and their responses to the conditions around them inform the reader. Janie Chang author of Dragon Springs Road
The magic ingredient of historical fiction is the emotional truth of the time, the landscape of consciousness in the era described. Simon Parke author of The soldier, the gaoler, the spy and her lover
I build my worlds in concentric circles. The outer circle is the social, political, religious, economic and historical backdrop within which my story takes place … The next circle in will include the ‘props’ that the characters interact with … the innermost circle is the emotional core of the characters living in a particular period. Fiona Veitch Smith author of Pilate’s Daughter
The historical writer has to juggle with making sensibilities and prejudices true to the time while not overly offending the reader. Rhys Bowen author of In Farleigh Field
World building is absolutely essential, and it is probably the deal breaker as far as I am concerned. I come to the book for the setting, I enjoy plot and characters, but if the world does not come alive for me as I read, I consider it a big let down. Author, Davide Mana responded to my questions as a reader.
Details have to be woven in seamlessly, so that it doesn’t come off as a contemporary novel dressed up in historical costume. Also, an author needs to give just enough description, but not so much that it weighs the reader down and interrupts the flow. Author Michelle Cox responded to my questions as a reader.
Until scientists succeed in inventing a working time machine, historical fiction is the best means we have of sinking into vanished worlds and gaining a sense of what it must have been like to live in another time. Jennifer Robson author of Goodnight From London
Also responding as a reader is Margaret McGovern author of The Battle of Watling Street – History is concerned primarily with conflicts, winners and losers, and what historical fiction adds to a dry retelling of history is where it imbues the events of the past with characters that reach back in time to make it happen again for me, the reader.
“Novels are about exposing the truth” of who we are and who we have been, particularly women. Geraldine Brooks author of The Secret Chord
Character is the bridge to the distant past. Exploring the nature of a character from the past, whether fictional or historical, requires embracing what makes them different, even if that means showing how their perspective differs from how we think today. Cryssa Bazos author of Traitor’s Knot
Conflict is everything in stories and when that conflict is internal as well as external, it produces a mouth-watering cocktail. Mark Stibbe author of The Fate of Kings
As historical fiction writers, we’re chasing the bubble of verisimilitude … By this I mean not only their dialogue, but also their patterns of thought, reactions to all manner of situations, and interactions with each other and their world. Jeffrey Walker author of Truly Are the Free
But perhaps for historical novel readers, it is the spicy details that change our experience from commonplace to a story that transports us to a time long ago. Rebecca Rosenberg author of The Secret Life of Mrs. London
Do these resonate for you?
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.