Successful Historical Fiction – with Pat Wahler

Pat Wahler is an award-winning writer who has been a frequent contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, Sasee Magazine, Not Your Mother’s Book anthologies, Storyteller Magazine, and other regional, national, and international publications. Pat was kind enough to respond to my questions on successful historical fiction.

Q: What’s your definition of successful historical fiction?

A: Successful historical fiction draws me into the story and allows me to connect with the characters. The story must successfully immerse me in the time period by giving a strong sense of setting without unnecessary info dump.

Q: What attributes are most important to you when designating a novel as ‘successful historical fiction’.

Accuracy – Strong sense of place/setting – Good storyline – Appealing characters

Q: Which authors do you think create the most successful historical fiction? (please restrict yourself to a small number of authors!)

I enjoy reading anything by Susanna KearsleyStephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie did a very nice job on America’s First Daughter. Margaret Mitchell, of course, for Gone With the Wind. Jennifer Chiaverini (Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, among others)

Q: What makes these particular authors stand out?

They excel at the things I mentioned earlier: accuracy, strong sense of place/setting, good storyline, and creating strong appealing characters.

Q: In your opinion, what aspects prevent a novel from being designated successful historical fiction?

Inaccurate details, overwritten (info dump), characters with whom I cannot connect, weak or uninteresting plot, poor worldbuilding.

Q: Are famous people essential to successful historical fiction?

No, although it can add interest. However, such use should complement/add to the story, not be an attempt to simply drop names.

Q: Does successful historical fiction have to say something relevant to today’s conditions?

Yes. History often repeats itself. We can learn from the past, if we study it.

Q: What role does research play in successful historical fiction?

It’s very important. I find it jarring when I run across things I know are not accurate representations of the time period. It takes me out of the story.

Q: Please comment on how these elements are critical to successful historical fiction? Characters. Setting. Plot. Conflict. Dialogue. World building. Themes.

I believe they are all important, as outlined above. If you would like them ranked, in my opinion (from most to least important) we would have: Plot, Conflict, Setting, Dialogue, Characters, Worldbuilding, Setting, Themes. Essentially, a good story propels the reader along, but must be supported by authenticity and accuracy.

Q: Do you judge historical fiction differently from contemporary fiction?

In some ways, yes. Worldbuilding isn’t as important in contemporary pieces. For a reader to be transported to the past, they must be able to “see” where they are and how the people live—which is outside their modern day-to-day life experience.

Many thanks for your input, Pat and best wishes for your writing.

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, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website

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The historical fiction author behind A Writer of History...

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3 Responses

  1. I agree. Historical fiction needs to be extremely accurate in recreating the world with accuracy. You’re not merely entertaining your reader, you’re teaching them the time in which the events happened and how the characters saw the world from their point of view.

  2. Thanks for the opportunity, Mary! The questions you ask are excellent food for thought, and something anyone who writes historical fiction should consider in their work.

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