Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hints for Writing Historical Fiction


I thought that since I've learned a little about writing historical fiction (or fiction set back in time) in my writing experience, I'd share a few tips with you. Not that I necessarily know a lot, but it's what I write, so I've learned some things along the way.

1. Read a book either written or set in the era you're using
This is extremely helpful, as you will be able to gather information such as clothing popular in that era, words, politics, literature, celebrities, etc. Do take caution when reading fiction *set* in the era and not written in it, because the author didn't necessarily do his or her research. I found this hint extremely helpful when writing The Seasonings, because it is set in the Victorian Era, and I've read extensively and done extensive research on what this era had to offer so I was pretty immersed in the literature of the day.

2. Research colloquialisms, terms, sayings that the people used back then.
You should be able to find a treasure-trove of colorful language. (In the best possible way) Expressions that have long been buried and forgotten. Some of my favorites are:
"Saints above!"
"Blooming barnacles!"
"That's all a bunch of who-struck-John."
"Bully"
"Lawful hearts"
And many more. They just add a certain snap and color to your novel that would be entirely missing if you stuck to modern language. (Sorry everyone, but as a writer, I groan over texting language. It's so....cold and utilitarian in my opinion.)

3. Get out of the Slough of Insipid Language
"Nice," "Very," and "Suddenly" are pretty much goners. Especially the first two. Mark Twain has a marvelous quote regarding "very," but I don't think I'd quite like to quote him, as he uses a word I *don't* recommend. ;) Scour your brain and thesauruses and dictionaries and other books for strong adjectives. I promise you it's worth it. Only, do be careful. Some words have changed meaning over time, a good example being the word "gay" which used to be a sweet little word meaning "cheerful, brightly-colored, happy, etc." You probably want to nix that word in your writing, though it is historically accurate, as you are writing for a modern audience.

4. Research your setting
There is nothing more disappointing than cracking open a "historical fiction" novel and finding it could have been set in New York City today with very little change.
I wrote The Seasonings as being set in a British settlement in East India. Along the way I ended up doing more authentic research. I had started with The Little Princess, Homeless Bird and The Secret Garden being my authority on India, (and more specifically) British-occupied East India, but that wasn't going to cut it. Once I did my scouring, learning the customary foods and clothing, the topography of the land, etc. my story gained a lot of color. By the way, I don't recommend doing as I did and using only a couple of fictional books as your guides to life in your setting. It made for some pretty rough descriptions at first.

5. Be accurate
If you are truly writing a historical novel, this is perhaps the most important tip I can give you. History is defined by real people and real events. I'm sorry, but you can't change the date of battles or deaths of key historical figures or anything. Your writing will pretty much be discounted by anyone who is brushed up on their historical facts. For instance, in Puddleby Lane I needed to be careful I started my story in the proper time of year and time of month so that the crashing of the stock market would be at the correct time.

6. Make your characters' names eye-catching.
The way too over-used names of today should be tossed out when you go to start your historical novel. Do a Google search, or if you're a purist, scan through some census or parish records and find some names that haven't been used to pieces.

Hope these ideas helped! Anyone have any more ideas or suggestions? :) -Rachel

1 comment:

Taylor Lynn said...

Good tips! I try to do a lot of this when I write, though I haven't done much with quotes from the time period... maybe I ought to start. :)

By the way, thought you might like this, since you love writing...

http://furtherup-and-furtherin.blogspot.com/2011/05/beautiful-people-mayjune-edition.html

Hugs!
Taylor Lynn <3