(Tips for writing historical fiction from myself and other writers, links to other articles included!)
Historical fiction is a delicate balance of wanting to express the history of the setting or event and providing fictional characters with empathy, for the reader to connect to. Therefore, in my novels I focus on building the world and the rules of that world. I include historical details about daily life which can add historical context reader, but I aim to balance that detail with familiar and relatable details to keep my stories grounded.
Masterclass.com: “Worldbuilding makes a historical fiction book more authentic …However, don’t add information just to add it; make sure every part of your world-building advances the story.”
This is an important part of developing as a writer! It can be all too easy to get carried away with exposition, telling your reader about your historical research without progressing the story.
The beginning of your novel
There are so many different ways to open the novel! I try to begin mine with a problem or conflict for the main character, making sure that my first paragraph captures the reader straight away.
If you can leave your first chapter on a talking point or a mini cliff-hanger, you compel your reader to keep reading which is important as this is the first natural place whereby a reader could stop reading!
Lesley Downer, the author of The Shogun’s Queen, shares her advice for penning historical fiction:
When I write I want to take my readers on a journey to an unfamiliar time and place, but I also want to keep true to the history. For me the point of research is not just to gather information. I also want to immerse myself in the place and the period until I live and breathe it. I want to see all the places with my own eyes – taste the flavour, feel the atmosphere, breathe the air. When I travel I keep a diary and note down every tiny feature. Some I can’t immediately see a use for but once I’m home an unexpected detail often inspires me. I immensely enjoyed both researching and writing The Shogun’s Quartet – it was a chance to step into another world and in my writing I’ve done my best to take my readers there too.”