During 2019, A Writer of History had the good fortune of securing many guest authors to discuss a range of topics related to historical fiction. Below are 8 tips that stand out for me.
Historical fiction, in its very essence, is a way of falling together in time—a story is set in the past, but it is being written from the present, so, for me, the process of writing such a story is in itself a synchronizing of different times.
Mary F. Burns, author of The Love for Three Oranges
In Keeping Historical Figures Real, Mary Sheeran discusses how to weave real historical figures into your novels. She says that:
“we can’t just report; all characters need to drive the story and have something of the writer in them.
A Surgeon’s Advice … on how to Write Books with Andrew Lam:
Writers must choose topics that matter to people. Stories that center on a controversial topic, an important historical event, or a way to help others improve their lives are all more likely to succeed. If your book isn’t about something important, it won’t be important to readers. Make sure it matters.
Marc Graham whose novel Song of Songs is about the legendary Queen of Sheba, writes of the challenges in going far back in time.
While it’s simply not possible to recreate these tales with certain accuracy, harnessing the best available resources (archaeology, linguistics, epigraphy) and cross-referencing the myths among different cultures can help us frame our stories in a realistic world.
In Writing the Stories of History’s Powerful Women, Judith Cromwell tells us that:
such writing requires meticulous research. Research resembles a mixture of jigsaw puzzle and mystery. The writer must identify clues, track each to its source, evaluate each within the context of the subject’s life and character. Original research brings the thrill of unearthing new information.
Donna Baier Stein, author of Scenes From the Heartland, discusses using actual images as a basis for building a story in her post Turning Images into Tales:
as a fiction writer, my desire was not to capture the truth of the actual image (the way a photographer might want to do), but to imagine a potential story behind this scene.
Luke Jerod Kummer is the author of The Blue Period, a novel about Pablo Picasso. He writes about examining the works of Picasso in order to gain a deep understanding of his character:
when I sought to reconstruct the look and feel of where and how a maturing Picasso lived in Barcelona and Paris, or what his households, friends or lovers were like, there were paintings, pastels and drawings allowing intimate glimpses both of his surroundings and what was going on inside him.
Elizabeth Bell’s guest post The Importance of Warts brings out the theme of creating characters and stories that don’t gloss over the warts of historical events, culture and social mores. She says:
As historical novelists, we are tour guides and teachers … We do [readers] an enormous disservice if we’ve whitewashed that truth… If we don’t make our readers think, if we don’t make them at least a little uncomfortable, we’re not doing our jobs.
Important lessons. I’ll have a few more for you next time.
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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.