Author Tips on Writing Historical Fiction

Historical Fiction Writing TipsToday I’ve selected authors’ tips on writing historical fiction from around the web.

From How to Write Historical Fiction: 7 Tips on Accuracy and Authenticity by Susanna Calkins author of A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate

  • Let the characters engage with the historical details – a variation on show don’t tell
  • Allow your characters to question and explore their place in society – doing so reveals the context of the times
  • Love the process, because readers will still find errors

From Seven Rules for Writing Historical Fiction by Elizabeth Crook author of The Night Journal: A Novel

  • Sweat the Small Stuff – small details allow readers to engage all senses in the past world you are building
  • Dump the Ballast – too much detail is a killer

10 Tips for Aspiring Historical Fiction Writers by Stephanie Dray author of Daughters of the Nile

  • Read historical fiction – sounds obvious doesn’t it but you have to appreciate excellent historical fiction in order to be successful
  • Know when to stop researching – cautions about falling down the proverbial rabbit hole

5 Writing Tips from Mary Sharratt author of Illuminations

  • Research comes before writing – get the facts right to ensure a good foundation for your novel
  • Inhabit the mind and skin of your characters – you have to understand the sensibilities of the time so your readers can feel immersed in it

6 Top Tips for Writing Historical Fiction by Dinah Jeffries author of The Tea Planter’s Wife

  • Pick a universal theme if you can – the concerns of your novel need to resonate with modern readers
  • Choose a time and place that really intrigues you – passion will make your story more compelling

Each article offers more suggestions and explanations than the ones I’ve picked.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

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27 Responses

  1. I poked my head out from the rabbit hole to read your post. Some great resources here, Mary – Stephanie Dray’s picture captions were brilliant and Mary Sharrat’s comments resonated…Thank you!

  2. Great advice. What I like the most, and what I always try to do, is trying to get readers into my characters’ skin by using details. Sure, details are hell to reserach, but they are so powerful! 🙂

  3. My sister loves historical fiction and has has been thinking about trying her hand at writing a few. So, I liked that you talked about doing research about the period. She wants to write something set during world war two, and maybe it would be good for her to read a memoir of a soldier.

    1. Hi Ivy .. many thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Your sister would be very wise to do lots of research and please tell her that it’s almost as much fun as doing the writing!

  4. I thak I made a mistake I sent my query letter in to Amanda I thought she was the historical fiction agent I see I may have sent my query letter to the wrong person if I am wrong please let me know but if I’m right I will I just wait to see what Amanda says

  5. My question is regarding citing research for historical fiction. I understand direct quotes from a narrative are cited but what if one is researching facts regarding real life events that are not common knowledge from sources that are not in the public domain?

    1. Hi Stephen … the authors I know, myself included, use the Author Notes or Afterword as the mechanism to attribute specific details and research sources. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by ‘direct quotes from a narrative are cited’. If you mean cited in the body of the novel – then no, I’ve never seen this and it would interrupt the reader’s experience of the story (definitely not a good thing). If you’re thinking a detailed quote by quote attribution in the afterword, I’ve seen this in narrative non-fiction but don’t recall seeing it in fiction. What I have seen is authors explaining in a general way that they used actual quotes from XYZ source in the novel where suitable, or something along those lines. Here’s an example from Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan Henry: “In this historical fiction, the letters and dialogue between Joy and Jack, as well as their family and friends, were created by my imagination. Although this is a work of fiction, my desire was to stay as close to the bone of the existing and factual skeleton as possible–thus the inspiration, occasional snippets, phrases, and quotes in the letters, in dialogue, and in Joy’s internal musings have come from actual events, matters, poems, essays, biographies, and articles written by and about them both, as well as speeches they gave.” Hope that helps … best wishes for your writing, Mary

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