Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Challenge of Writing Historical Fiction

All the good advice given in books on how to write fiction is applicable to writing historical fiction.

Writers must enjoy writing even when they encounter obstacles. This is particularly true of writing historical fiction. Historical novelists require a profound interest in all things historical.

The historical novels that I read more than once sweep me into the activities and ‘mind sets’ in a way which I enjoy.

When writing historical novels I enjoy recreating times past and presenting plots and themes unique to the country and era that I present to my readers.

Thomas Carlyle 1795-1881 wrote: “No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men.” (Today, he might have written: Great men and women.) To add veracity to my fictional characters I either mention or allow historical characters to play a part. In my forthcoming release Tangled Love Queen Anne, the Duke of Marlborough and his wife, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough have their place. All too often, there is not as much information about less important people as a novelist would like. However, imagination is any novelist’s best friend, and a historical novelist can people novels with colourful but imaginary characters.

History, or Herstory, interests me and provides more ideas than I have time to develop; but what is history? One of the definitions in Collins English Dictionary is: “A record or account, often chronological in approach of past events, developments etc.” Thomas Carlyle wrote: “What is all knowledge too but recorded experience and a product of history; of which, therefore, reasoning and belief, no less than action and passion, are essential materials?” Yes, indeed, these are the heady ingredients which historical novelists can incorporate in novels.

For various reasons many people’s knowledge of history is scant. For example, Charles II, the merry monarch, is fairly well known but his niece Queen Anne is not. Yet most people are interested in the past even if history did not interest them at school and they chose to study – for example – computer studies, catering or modern languages. Programmes such as Dontown Abbey, the first two parts of which have been shown on television in the U.K., has attracted a vast audience. No doubt they will generate further interest in the era prior to and during the 1st World War. Undoubtedly, this interest will increase the sales of fiction and non fiction relevant to the period.

Last week, in my blog about Writing Historical Fiction, I referred to my dislike of novels in which history is ‘despoiled.’ Fiction must entertain, but it is also the author’s responsibility to reveal past times and interpret history as accurately as possible. There should be much more than dressing characters in costume and allowing them to act as though they are twenty-first century people. For example, when writing about countries in which Christianity predominated, religious conflict can provide a powerful theme but faith and attendance at church is often ignored.

4 comments:

Mike Hays said...

Yes, historical fiction can be a challenge, but researching about a different time and place makes it very rewarding.
Good luck with Tangled Love!

Li said...

I'm enjoying this series, as I've been toying with idea of trying to write some historical fiction. It's been really helpful! Thank you.

cleemckenzie said...

I really appreciate historical fiction and I learn so much when I read it. It breathes life into what used to be.

You've mentioned some very interesting people that we should know more about. THanks for the post.

Nish said...

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