So you want to write historical fiction?

Well, here are some clues for you to consider before beginning to write historical fiction.

Historical fiction has always been popular, with people gravitating toward novels set in time-periods in which they have an interest. But writing historical fiction is a lot more work than writing a contemporary fiction piece. Why?

These tips for beginning to write historical fiction will explain:

1. Choose a time-period. When writing historical fiction, the time period should be very specific, not a vague decade within a century. Clothing styles, customs and social mores change from decade to decade and often even more frequently.

Choose the exact years in which your book will take place.
Popular broad time periods in historical fiction include the Regency period in England, the Civil War period in the U.S., the medieval period in Europe, and the late 19th century in either America or Europe. With the rise in Christian fiction, stories of biblical characters are becoming popular.

These historical periods have a large number of devoted readers, but any time period and any place may be the setting for your work. If you cannot think of a time period that you are familiar with, think of a historical person or character that appeals to you and see if that time period is one you want to write about.

2. Research, research, and more research. The moment in history that you choose should be very familiar to you by the time you have finished your research. You should know the common customs, the class system, the monetary system, the common living arrangements and anything else that may come up in your work.

One or two wrong details will cause you to lose your credibility fast. If there are obvious anachronistic errors in your historical fiction, you can also be prepared for bags of letters being sent to you, admonishing you for those errors.

What are anachronistic errors? Basically, these errors involve the use of some item from another time period. For instance, the Roman roads were not called “highways”. The highway was a term adapted with the use of automobiles.

Do as much research as possible before you begin to write. Writing a story and then trying to adapt it to a certain time-period will come out sounding artificial and forced. The information you uncover will guide the story you write and take it to places you hadn’t considered before.

3. Give the characters an appropriate perspective. The best part of writing a novel is the characters and making them come to life. The characters of a historical fiction novel should have the mindset of people from that time-period. Characters are shaped by their experiences, family life and culture, which includes the time and place in which they are born.

Naming your characters is an important early task. Be sure that the names you chose are common for the time-period you’ve chosen.

A character’s general perspective on the world will be obvious in books written in the first person. If the book is written in the third person, a character’s values as defined by the time-period can be demonstrated through the character’s dialogue and actions, or through the narrative voice recounting the thoughts and feelings of the character. However, the character’s viewpoint is demonstrated, it should be apparent that the character is not simply a modern person dropped into a different time-period.

A good example of well researched and well-written historical fiction is:
Byrd, Elizabeth. The Immortal Queen. Random House, New York, 1972.

A helpful book for writing historical fiction is the prize-winning:
Martin, Rhona. Writing Historical Fiction. St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1988.

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