Saturday, February 16, 2013

SCWC: Historical Fiction - How Much Look Up, How Much Make Up?

  • What's the attraction of historical fiction? Why did you pick the era you're writing in? Why is it better for the story to take place in this era rather than in present day?
  • It has to be plausible in order for a certain amount of disbelief to be suspended
  • Write what you know, not what someone else writes
  • Pick an era you already know and love
  • If you pick an era not a lot of people are familiar with, you can make up a lot more stuff and get away with more.
  • If you pick something based around known events, you better make sure you get your facts correct
  • Stories are written, books are re-written. The more you re-write them, the better they get.
  • Don't do lazy research; don't use hearsay or urban legend as historical “fact”
  • How do people communicate in the era you chose?
  • Older movies can be more historically accurate than modern movies set in that time period
  • Old people are a great source of info! Memories from people that were actually there. Their memories also extend past them, because they have information from others (their parents, grandparents, aunts/uncle etc). Old folks have memories that exceed past their own age. Depending on how old they are, they could have info going back 100+ years.
  • Research people that also write in the era you're interested in. Steal their stuff! Not their plots/characters, but their historical info.
  • Visit museums that specialize in the period you're interested in
  • If you're going to make something up, don't mislead your reader. Is it plausible?
  • Don't forget that multiple events can be occurring within the same era, but different parts of the world. Contemporary/parallel events could be interesting together in a story
  • Don't put modern idioms/figures of speech/slang into the mouth of a 3rd century monarch. Don't make speech too modern. It can be tricky to understand vocabulary from the era you're writing about.
  • Don't go out of your way to use certain words just to show off
  • Less is more—if you use the right words, you can eliminate a lot of extra description (try to take a descriptive paragraph and get the point across in one sentence). Compact your writing.
  • You don't have to put everything you know about the era into the book. Keep it relevant/in context to the story. Don't show off how much you know; don't think people will be impressed with how much you know about the era. The point is to write a story, not a compendium of the era (that's what the Notes section is for in the back of the book).
  • Only put in the details you need to move the story along, that would put the reader into the story.
  • There's only so much you can do when it comes to research and accuracy; if a reader is unhappy with it, oh well.
  • Get into a writers' group; but remember that your writing can only be as good as the best writer in the group (so make sure the “best” writer in the group isn't an unpolished putz). If you don't feel like you're getting help from the group, move on.
  • You need someone with a critical eye to read your stuff – NOT family/friends
  • Put yourself in your characters' heads and think like they would in that time period. Try not to impose modern values/biases on people that thought/believed/behaved differently in their time. Don't fret over being offensive or politically incorrect. People owned slaves, that's just the way it was. Romans crucified Jews, that's just the way it was.
  • Previously published works from other eras would likely be extremely difficult to get published in modern day. You have to figure out how to appeal to modern day readers.
  • DON'T EVER THROW ANYTHING AWAY. Even the stuff you think is crap.
  • Learn your craft and be patient
  • Don't expect a big advance from the publisher (if your book does poorly and you don't “earn out,” you could end up owing them money back!)

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