Writing historical fiction can be a bit tricky. Not only do you need to create authenticity with your characters, but you’ve got to get the backgrounds and places historically correct with your descriptions. The best way to get started is to choose an exact time period for your book. You’re not writing 18th century fiction. You’re writing a period piece that takes place in 1789.
Once you get that sorted, you’ll want to think about these additional tips while working on your manuscript.
#1. Take your time. Historical fiction isn’t something you can rush. You’re going to be doing a ton of research to get your characters and setting right. If you’re trying to write this novel in your spare time and want to get it finished right away, there’s a good chance that your manuscript is going to feel inauthentic. It’s a lot of work and it’s going to take some time, so make sure you go into the story feeling like you can get the work done.
— Bry (@BryWrites) April 22, 2016
#2. Be passionate about your time period. If you don’t have a personal interest in the historical settings you’re planning on writing about, then there’s a good chance that one day you’ll just abandon the manuscript altogether. Your passions will lead you into the research that you’ll need to do for an engaging story.
#3. Establish trust. This is where your research pays off. If you’re writing historical fiction and you get your facts wrong, then your readers aren’t going to trust you. Saying that World War I started in 1845, for example, is a mistake that could ruin your manuscript. Time periods shape the people and places in your story. People had different ideas and beliefs back then than they do now. Even their knowledge was different. Unless you’re writing a sci-fi historical novel, you’ve got to get this right.
#4. Remember that you’re writing a story. Have you ever read a Louis L’Amour novel? His ability to balance the description of the setting with plot movement is virtually beyond compare. It can be easy to lose yourself in the facts of the manuscript’s setting, but you must remember that you’re writing a story. Being overly descriptive without giving the characters life means you’re writing more of a Wikipedia entry than a story. The goal is to make people feel like they’ve visited the past instead of taking a college level history course.
#5. Dedicate yourself to the story. Historical fiction can be very difficult to write in small blocks of time. This is because you’ve got to immerse yourself into this historical world in order to get the story right. If you write for a few minutes every day, then your story will feel choppy and incomplete because that’s how you’re writing it. Let this story flow out of you based on your research. Keep writing until you feel like you can’t write any more and then repeat that process every day until you get the first draft done.
#6. Don’t rely on the internet. There’s a saying about internet facts that goes something like this: “95% of the statistics you’ll find online are made up.” The internet can be useful for research, but it can also be very, very bad. To be fair, the same is true with books about historical time periods as well. Before including anything in your historical manuscript, make sure you’ve verified the facts you plan to include with at least two other independent sources to cover your tracks.
#7. Sometimes it really is fine to make a guess. Now that you’ve been lectured about being authentic and using accurate facts to create your historical fiction, it’s also fine to take a guess sometimes about the settings and characters you’ve created. Sometimes history doesn’t record the exact details we need. Instead of leaving holes in the story, fill in those details with your best guess and most readers won’t notice if you’ve done your research everywhere else.
This quote helped me realize that want is at the heart of most non-fiction writing as well. pic.twitter.com/mxXfWYhrVK
— Casey Rose Frank (@CaseyRoseFrank) April 28, 2016
#8. Learn to forgive yourself. You’ve triple-checked your work. Your editor has triple-checked your work. Your publisher has likely done the same thing. Guess what? Mistakes are still going to happen. If readers start critiquing your work, then thank them for the feedback and don’t be too hard on yourself. After all – if people are criticizing your book, then it means they’re reading it, right?
These tips for writing historical fiction can help you build the right foundation for your characters and settings. Be passionate, take your time with the research, and be dedicated to the process and you’ll experience success.
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