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Top 3 Tips For Writing Great Historical Fiction

By John Reese, Mar 12 2017 01:32PM




Like any genre there are tropes and devices that authors invariably weave through their narratives, but whether the overarching genre of Historical Fiction or its subgenres there are a succinct number of characteristics upon which the most memorable of bestsellers rise. The bedrock for authenticity has to be robust research but the inclusion of fact doesn’t necessarily make for a compelling read. Historical nuances have to be repurposed to serve the narrative without losing their symbolic impact. whilst avoiding the trap of having historical events whirling too perfectly around a novels main character.


Clearly, any view is subjective but we think our top 3 tips for writing bestselling Historical Fiction are a good place to start when setting out to write or refine Historical Fiction or its subgenres.


1 - Whether real or imagined, nuanced dialogue breathes life into a character and the period in which they live. Dialogue invariably reflects the attitudes, biases, beliefs and social expectations of the time but when too rigidly adhered to can come across as unwieldy and detract from a reader's enjoyment. The trick here is to include just enough vocabulary and phrases from the period to establish setting and authenticity.


2 - Readers read Historical Fiction because they are drawn to a time or place. They expect the past to come to life as they turn the pages and an author who fails to deliver in this respect faces the looming despondency of literary obscurity. More importantly, readers want to be immersed in time and place from the every start. Historical Fiction readers tend to be particularly discerning and failing to deliver this in the opening paragraphs will see interest quickly wane. Clothing, architecture and modes of transport are just some of hundreds of period aspects that quickly establish time and setting whilst helping to establish a theme that feels authentic in the context of a novels period of focus.


3 - Historical Fiction might be fact-centric but a plot must still make sense for the period of time it covers and be true to historical events. This is equally true of conflict which must accurately reflect the underlying social commentary of the chosen era and helps to establish that all important air of authenticity. It’s important to remember that Historical Fiction not only represents a different way of doing things but reflects a different way of thinking as well.


Despite its ever growing popularity and the vast dearth of Historical Fiction novels released, relatively few authors truly distinguish themselves or manage to carve out a niche which sets them apart. A fine example of an author who has successfully achieved this is Mary Morony whose Historical Family Saga series Apron Strings has won a host of rave reviews with Kirkus describing it as "Brilliantly written" and Mid West Book Review declaring it "The Perfect Read! "The BookViral review can be found HERE..


As we said earlier, any view is subjective and what we wanted to do with this blog post was to provide a point of reference upon which you could build. As always we hope we’ve given you something to reflect upon. Whatever your thoughts we are always open to comments and ideas and if you have a book you’d like to submit for review you can do so HERE.





2 comments
Dec 31 2017 02:16PM by Danny Johnson

I am an Historical Fiction writer, more by chance than original intent...I set out to tell a story set in the 60's in the Southern US, thinking Literary Fiction, however, through the weeds and forest came the characterization of Historical Fiction, which I accept. My tendency is to set my stories during a time I remember well, and am so glad to finally be able to see/show the world the value of the most disenfranchised folks in society, and do it in a way they will root for the main character, really enjoy the read, and learn from the settings. My debut novel, The Last Road Home, published by Kensington, was recently awarded the 2017 NC Sir Walter Award for Historical Fiction. I was humbled and honored by such recognition.

May 2 2018 10:53AM by BobLee

The best historical fiction I've read (listened to) in some time is The Outlaw Chronicles series (eight books) by Angus Donald about Robin Hood ... who himself is "fiction"... a legend / myth. There is plenty of "real history" of 12th century England, King John, 3rd Crusades et al seen thru the eyes of the legendary Robin Hood and his "Merry Men".

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