Imagine transporting yourself into another time — pretty cool right? This is exactly what readers get to do with the historical fiction genre. If you’re interested in trying your hand at writing historical fiction, here are some tips for creating that immersive experience for your readers.
1. Define Your Time Period
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. 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.
3. Strike a Balance Between Modern Sensibilities and Accurate Ones
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 create 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.
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. 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
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 — it’ll be worth it when you have a finished product that your readers will love!
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