How to Write Historical Fiction
Historical fiction is a challenging genre. In addition to paying attention to plot, structure, and narrative, historical fiction writers also have to balance research and historical accuracy with entertainment and readability. There’s no denying it can be a daunting genre for newcomers, who may struggle with the amount of in-depth research required and the unique balance of accuracy and engagement.
However, writing historical fiction novels doesn’t have to be stressful. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed at first, but the following steps should be a useful guide to writing historical fiction.
Determine Which Approach You Will Take
Writing a historical fiction novel means embracing history and using it to inspire your work. However, there are different approaches you can take while doing so. Picking an approach beforehand allows for more structure and a concrete idea of what you must do. The following are some of the approaches you can take when writing historical fiction.
Write a Fictional Story but Use Real Events as the Setting
If you want to write a fictional story, it’s entirely possible to do so within the historical fiction genre. There’s no hard and fast rule about basing your story on real figures. One way to integrate history into your story is by using real events as the setting and background of your story. Focusing on actual events but using your own characters gives you more control over the narrative and plot.
Be Accurate While Telling a Fictionalized Version
Yet another approach when learning how to write historical fiction is to closely follow a true story but tell a fictionalized version of the story. Although your historical fiction novel will be accurate, you can still put your own spin on the account.
Fill In the Gaps
If you want to keep to original events while still adding your own interpretation and use creative license, fill in the gaps. Historians can’t fill in gaps and must stick to the truth. However, authors are under no such constraint. Embrace rumors and subtext and stay true to the original version while injecting your insights.
Popular author Philippa Gregory uses this approach to historical fiction. Her books (e.g. The Last Tudor, Three Sisters, Three Queens, etc.) are primarily based on the British/English monarchy and use fiction to fill in gaps in real-life events.
Do Plenty of Research
The research stage is important when writing any novel, but it’s integral for historical fiction writers. Because the novel you’re writing is set in a certain time period and is taking place amidst real events, conducting research is essential for writing a historical fiction novel.
One of the reasons readers love the genre is because of historical accuracy. Reading a well-written historical fiction novel transports readers to a different time, and accuracy is how to achieve this. To make your story authentic and capture the feel of the time, you have to pay attention to the smallest details, including social etiquette, how people talked, their clothes, and more. This makes research vital to the historical fiction novel-writing process.
That being said, it’s also integral to pick and choose what you use in your historical fiction novel. If you add too many details and prioritize historical accuracy above all else, you may end up with a history book instead of an intriguing novel. Since readers aren’t looking for an encyclopedia, this can hurt sales and leave readers dissatisfied. While characters should always be in sync with their settings, the story must also be prioritized.
When researching a historical fiction novel, it’s always a good idea to look at both primary and secondary sources. Primary sources help amalgamate you into the world and teach you what to expect, while secondary sources give you a more detailed overall perspective. When conducting your research, it’s also imperative to double-check everything – cross-reference facts to ensure accuracy.
Know When to Deviate From History
Part of writing a great historical fiction novel is knowing when to deviate from history and use your imagination to fill in any gaps. However, there are unwritten rules for doing this correctly. It’s not advisable to completely change events.
That being said, as a writer, you can use a creative license to fill in gaps that haven’t been explained. However, your explanation should be plausible and in keeping with the character. Additionally, while taking creative liberties, it is important to explain how you deviated from the facts and filled the gaps in your historical note.
Make a Plan and Write the Novel
You may have taken care of the research, but planning out the novel before writing is also important. This includes picking a structure, developing characters, determining external and internal conflicts, and making plot outlines. As with any novel, having a concrete plan before you start will ensure a better writing flow and guide you in the right direction.
Revise Your Novel and Hire an Editor
Finishing your first draft is definitely an accomplishment, but this isn’t where the work ends. When writing a historical fiction novel, you must revise your novel and make changes to improve the story. That being said, once you’ve read your manuscript enough times and know it front and back, your closeness to the project might prevent you from noticing mistakes. That’s where hiring an editor comes in.
Making your historical fiction manuscript publishing-ready requires the expertise of a professional editor. Utilize Edit911’s expert novel editing services to take your historical fiction novel to the next level. Reach out to us here for more information.