Creating a well-written novel is a balancing act, but some genres are more troublesome to navigate. Knowing which rules to follow and which to break can be difficult. Historical fiction writers face some of the greatest challenges.
There are specific rules one must consider when taking on the task of writing this kind of literature. Research will go a long way in this genre. Knowing the time, place, and people you are writing about during the particular era you work with is crucial. Readers (especially readers that are also writers) like to know they can trust the author to deliver accurate information. Sometimes, small things can pull a reader out of the world, like cars from a year too early driving down the road, or wrongly valued currency being passed by traders. So pay attention to the little things as much as the larger points.
However, the ‘fiction’ in this genre also allows you some give and take. For instance, in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, time travel is one of the story's main subjects. In these multi-genre books, she uses the fictional aspect to fill small gaps in her novels. History constricts the writer, but we are also allowed to use it to our advantage with some practice.
Now, there are two common ways to write historical fiction. The first, and most common in my opinion, is using an earlier period (generally the time periods around major events such as wars are the most common) and adding fictional people to face the complications of the time. The second involves writing from the perspective of people who actually lived and telling a story that could have occurred.
When I read historical fiction, I don’t want to get caught up in dated issues and old ways of thinking. When I’m reading historical fiction (the first time), I just want to get lost in another time. Often, this is what readers expect from this kind of writing. It can be difficult to keep a story set in the past timeless and universal, but it is not impossible. People still read Shakespeare because his themes are timeless. The key to good historical fiction is finding something that all readers can relate to which is why historical fiction novels (or TV shows, movies, etc.) are usually multi-genre now. Love, hate, and so on are often very significant in these novels because they are something everyone has brushed in life at one time or another.
A lot of the time people are intimidated by the idea of diving head first into a period they aren’t a part of because it is foreign ground. Overcoming this fear and exploring history is the best means of learning and becoming comfortable with writing historical fiction. It’s easier than you’d think to fall in love with another time.
Katelin is a writer with a passion for historical fiction and hockey. Born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario she can often be found riding the O-Train with a Pepsi, at least one copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and a developing character in the empty seat across from her.