Imagine transporting yourself into another time — pretty cool, right? This is exactly what readers get to do with the historical fiction genre. These kinds of novels invite readers to escape to a different world in a different time.
However, when it comes to writing a historical novel, it takes a lot more than just jotting down some words on the page. You have to set the scene and create a convincing setting, where you readers can immerse themselves and lose track of time. You have to make sure you use the right language of that time period and accurate descriptions, from the kind of technology that’s available to the clothes that your characters wear.
So where do you start when you want to write historical fiction? It can feel like a daunting task at first, but don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. If you’re interested in trying your hand at writing historical fiction, here are some tips for writing historical fiction and creating that immersive experience for your readers. Providing advice like defining your time period and avoiding too many details, these tips will help you to get started in writing historical fiction today.
1. Define Your Time Period
Our first tip for writing a historical fiction novel involves deciding when you want it to take place. A lot can change over the course of even just a few years. Just think about how drastically different 1950 was from 1960 or even just 1962!
You may have an idea for the general era in which you want your story to take place, but that’s not the same thing as a defined time period. For instance, the Middle Ages encompassed hundreds of years of history that aren’t all the same. A story that takes place in the earliest years of this time period will be extremely different from one that takes place in the late Middle Ages. When writing historical fiction, know exactly when your story takes place or you may end up with a mishmash of ideas that don’t create an accurate look at life in that time.
2. Research, Research, Research
No one wants to read historical fiction filled with error after error. This can take the reader out of the story and make you as a writer less credible. Not only that, but it can be distracting for the reader as well. After all, the reader wants to get lost in your story, not spend time doing their own fact-checking on the side.
The amount of research that you do when writing historical fiction may not be immediately apparent in your work — you may know exactly what kind of shoes all of your characters are wearing even if you don’t include that in the story. However, that knowledge takes you deeper into the time period and allows you to imagine what the setting looks like accurately. There’s rarely such a thing as too much research when it comes to creating a believable story in a historical setting.
As for the kinds of research, look into various sources, from history books to first-hand accounts. Depending on the era, look into photographs, artwork, and even newspapers to get a feel for everyday life during that time period. Scour the library, and don’t forget about all the resources at your local library. When writing a historical novel, the more you know, the better!
3. Strike a Balance Between Modern Sensibilities and Accurate Ones
With time comes a change in the way we view the world around us. People hold drastically different beliefs today than they did 100 years ago–not to mention 200 years ago! The morals and sensibilities of many time periods, particularly those of antiquity, may not strike much of a chord with modern readers. In fact, they can create a host of characters who are unlikeable and unrelatable for the reader. It’s also important not to take a modern person and simply thrust them into a historical setting so that the reader will like them better. What many writers do to solve this problem is to create a balance between modern and historical sensibilities that gives readers characters they can relate to but who are still accurate for the time period.
For many books, this creates some of the conflict, as the characters rally against the unfair practices or beliefs of the day. Hester Prynne in “The Scarlet Letter” is a good example of this. She didn’t like the community shaming her for having a child out of wedlock and refused to allow them to hold her down, though she did live within the conventions of the day and agreed to wear the scarlet letter.
This tip for writing historical fiction can be a tricky one to master, but doing your best to abide by it can make all the difference when crafting a believable storyline.
4. Don’t Get Too Bogged Down in Detail
The setting is extremely important in any work of historical fiction. It is much like a main character in the story. However, it isn’t necessary to describe everything. Long descriptions can slow the story, and they don’t always add value. Do your readers really need to know what kind of material the roof is made out of? If it doesn’t add anything to the plot, you can mostly likely nix it without compromising the storyline.
Instead, decide which things are worth describing so that your readers can see the complete setting. Knowing the type of glass that the characters are looking through isn’t as important as what they are seeing through the window. Describing the straw in the floor may do a better job of conveying the feel of the room and the condition of the building as well as the time period the characters are living in.
5. Take Your Time
There’s a good chance you won’t write any novel overnight. But make it historical fiction, and it could take even longer! Don’t let this discourage you. After all, historical fiction is one of the more time-consuming types of story to write. The amount of research that you need to do adds extra time to the writing process. Choosing which precise period you want for your story as well as deciding which details need to appear in your work to convey the time period will all take plenty of time when writing historical fiction.
Don’t rush your writing, and consider working with a writing tutor to get valuable feedback throughout the writing process. You can even turn to online writing lessons, where you can meet with a tutor on a virtual platform. Taking extra time to get some feedback and advice from a professional will all be worth it when you have a finished product that your readers will love!
Follow our tips for writing historical fiction, and you just may have the next cult classic on your hands.
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