What comes to mind when you hear the word “history”? Some of you probably think of sleepy classrooms led by the world’s most boring professor. Others may imagine a flash of black-and-white footage on History Channel as you make your way to more exciting channels.
However, if you’re a fiction writer, you should know that history is the mother lode when it comes to inspiration for stories. So many events have happened to the world – both good and bad – and it would be a waste not to pick, repurpose, and use them to tell compelling stories.
That’s why it comes as no surprise that fans of both fiction and history have found a way to combine the two and create something truly incredible. If you’re a historical fiction author in the making, here are six helpful tips to get you started.
Add a personal touch to your historical fiction. While the foundation consists of factual events, it would not hurt to inject your flavour to the story. A good way to do this would be to focus on specific aspects of your chosen historical period that you are sincerely interested in. Zoom in on what fascinates you the most about it because chances are your readers will become fascinated too. It could be as big as the government, as strange as a cult, or as self-contained as a family of three. Whatever it is, make sure that your story has focus.
Identify Who’s Telling The Story
In history, it’s always important to know who’s telling the story. The protagonist or narrator’s personal history will influence how he sees the world and the events that shaped it. Their biases, their relationships, and even their jobs will dictate how the story will be told. While writing, keep that in mind. This is something that you can return to throughout the writing process when you get stuck, or when you’re unsure about the character’s motivation.
Spice Things Up with Fictional Characters
Don’t be afraid to add fictional characters. This is historical fiction after all. That’s the fun of it. You can have your creations interact or react to historical figures and vice versa. This helps make your story much more interesting because you’re offering something else that history books cannot. This also allows you the freedom to explore the identity of real historical figures in a fun way.
Focus on the Tiny Details
Needless to say, a ton of research is required when writing historical fiction. While doing so, it’s important to treat the smallest of details as if they’re the most significant. Seemingly mundane things like knowing the model of toasters that were used in the 80s can make or break the realism of your story. To stay on the safe side, you can imagine that your readers will be people from the period that you’re writing about. Keep them in your grasp by staying consistent.
Use More Narration and Less Dialogue
The way people speak changes through time. That’s why dialogue written in one historical era may be difficult to understand in the present. Although there’s no rule saying that you must avoid capturing the exact manner of speech of your chosen historical era, it may affect the readability of your story. Luckily, there’s a way around that. When you write, try focusing on narration instead of dialogue. With narration, you have more freedom to write in a way that would be more accessible to modern readers.
Bring the Past to Life
The best way to make your historical era more authentic is to show scenes of daily life. During the beginning of the story, let them walk along a street and describe everything that is going on there. Do they pass by a bakery filled with the smell of fresh bread? What games are children playing with on the sidewalk? Are there corpses hanging from the gallows? If you paint the picture of your characters’ normal lives well enough, you’ll be able to transport your reader to that period quite effectively.
Don’t Reflect; Represent
Historical fiction should not aim to be a mirror of the past because that is simply impossible. History will always be biased because it was recorded by human beings with their perceptions and biases. What it can be, however, is a representation of it. Historical fiction can capture the feeling of living in the past and these tips can help you do just that.
You can populate your story with made-up characters, imagine subjective perspectives for objective truths, so on and so forth. What’s important is that you capture the essence of a period and what it means to the world today.
Now that you have six tips to start writing historical fiction, it’s time to shape your vision of the past. If you come up with new and better tips while writing, come back and let us know!