The Productivity Burden of Historical Fiction

This post originally appeared on Thanks, Downith.

I’ve been wondering lately, whether writing historical fiction takes longer than what I’ll call ‘regular’ fiction. And, if that’s the case, am I at a disadvantage in this world where writers face so much competition and publishers want writers who will produce a body of work at a clip of one new manuscript a year.

Downith recently posted her FTF photo, which inspired me to focus harder than usual that day and finish rewriting part one of an earlier manuscript. I worked from 8am to 3:30pm, a decent stretch by my standards but not unusual. One of my scrawls on a working copy of this manuscript said ‘describe the ship’ referring to a ship my main characters took to France in 1936.

This scrawl necessitated a deep dive to discover the names of ships Canadian veterans took for the Vimy Ridge war memorial dedication ceremony and then subsequent probing for a picture from which I could write the following two sentences:

“The Antonia’s dark blue hull and freshly painted white decks promised comfort, her huge red funnel promised a maximum speed of fifteen knots. Edward had secured one of five hundred cabins, knowing that Ann would suffer severe seasickness if he booked third class accommodation.”

44 words, roughly 40 minutes of searching and 5 minutes crafting sentences.

I’ve listened to published authors talk about their daily word count targets. Some expect 3000 words per day; others are less ambitious at 2000 a day. Let’s set the day at 6 hours. Doing the math, a writer needs to create 8.4 words a minute to accomplish 3000 or a little over 5 words a minute to accomplish 2000. In my little example above, I was cranking out 1 word per minute.

You can see the problem, can’t you?

And, that was an easy bit of historical research. Try writing a battle scene or a scene using dialogue to outline the causes of World War One without sounding like they are lifted from non-fiction sources.

I will be the first to admit that many scenes require very little research – sex scenes come to mind – but the added challenge for a writer of historical fiction to include historically accurate, deftly crafted scenes is a weighty one.

Perhaps I should learn to sleep less?

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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