Sunday, October 2, 2011

Writing Historical Fiction

Writing Historical Fiction

Historical fiction embraces different periods.

Prehistory, Ancient civilisations such as Egyptian and Indian, Classical (Mainly Greek and Roman History)Biblical, From the 1st century to the 20th century, Multi-period, Timeslip, Historical Fantasy, Alternative History, Children and Young Adult.

Historical Fiction can also be divided into different genres.

Fiction based on the lives of people who lived in the past.
Adventure, Romance, Crime, Thrillers and Whodunits, Mysteries,Military

These can be further divided into subgenres.

Arthurian, Mediaeval, Tudor, Elizabethan, Stuart, Georgian, Regency, Victorian, Edwardian, 1st World War, 2nd World War, Sagas, Pyschological Thrillers, Gothic (and Horror), Colonial U.S.A., Colonial, Civil War, American and its subgenre Native American Frontier, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Pirate and Naval.

More classifications can be found in Sarah Johnson’s Historical Fiction, A Guide to the Genre in which a chapter on sagas she includes authors from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and many others.

Whichever period a historical novelist chooses to write about, research is vital. The reader needs to experience the sights, sounds and smells, visualise costume and places and enjoy the reconstruction of the era the novel is set in.

I don’t think any historical novelist can get every detail about life in the past correct but she or he can research conscientiously and, without drowning the reader in facts, convey past times as accurately as possible. Failure to do this means the reader loses faith in the author. There are examples which caused me to lose faith.

In the first example, the author referred to a tea gown spread over a crinoline in the Victorian era. The Victorians did not wear gowns called tea gowns over crinolines. Tea gowns were worn by Edwardians and were not spread over crinolines.

In the second example, in the days when mediaeval castles and keeps did not have windows, a knight in full armour scaled the castle walls, (how did he find footholds?) to the turret where his lady was imprisoned. After he climbed in through the window, the lady greeted him with smile and asked. ‘Would you like a nice cup of tea and some eggs and bacon?’ Well, she might have been referring to herb tea and I’m daresay they ate eggs with bacon but the reference seemed too modern.

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