Over the history of writing Historical Novels have always been popular, however they can be quite difficult to write due to one problem – how do you balance the history and the fiction. We’ll look at this issue by first considering some general advice about how to write historical fiction before looking for some tips on the research side.
If you have never written historical fiction before then the best place to start is with some general tips. We have gone to Dinah Jefferies, writing on Women Writers, Women(‘s) Books, and Alison MacLeod, whose advice appear on the Scottish Book Trust website. We are going to start with Alison‘s advice first with Dinah‘s tips following on afterwards:
- Read The Best
- You need depth of research
- You don’t want to contradict well established facts
- Often the novelist’s most exciting discoveries are found in the gaps of information
- The success of a novel set in another period simply a question of accuracy vs. inaccuracy
- The concerns of the novel need to be relevant to a modern audience
- Beware of the dreaded information dumps
- The emphasis should be on the fiction, not the historical
- Include the way people thought at the time and what they valued, as well as the way they behaved
- Beware of simply shoving modern characters into a past time
- Choose a time and place that really intrigues you
Both women expand their points in each of their articles. Alison‘s is called Five Things: On Writing Historical Fiction and can be found on the Scottish Book Trust website here, while Dinah‘s article Six Top Tips for Writing Historical Fiction can be found here.
Researching A Historical Novel
As you can see from the above a lot of Alison‘s and Dinah‘s advice touches on the research aspect of a historical novel so for more detail on this we are turning to Socialpolitan Fiction Writing Craft. Back in 2011 Ann Rosopf Allen published an article on Socialpolitan Fiction Writing Craft called 12 Ways to Research A Historical Novel. They were:
- Read about the general history of the locale where your story is set
- If at all possible, visit the locale
- Visit local museums
- Explore old cemeteries, especially those where the models for your characters are buried.
- Research old newspapers
- Seek out and talk to knowledgeable people
- Consider searching for any legal documents related to your story
- Take a look at the fiction written at the time your story is set
- Don’t ignore the footnotes
- Consider specialized data bases and sources
- Buy some good reference books
- Use the Internet to its full advantage
Have you tried writing a historical novel? What is your preferred method of research?