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Historical fiction

This is an interactive Story software example file that has been published on the web.

Jon Cleary Climate of Courage - War story - real life

Jon Cleary Climate of Courage - War story - real life

How To Write Historical Fiction
by Maria Z.

Historical fiction stories use events in history, actual or fictional place settings and actual or fictional characters. Popular books of this genre include ‘My Name is Red’ by Orhan Pamuk, ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott and ‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy.

To write historical fiction, you will need to be well-versed with the time period that you wish to base your story in. A vague knowledge of the events that occur in the particular time period is nothing a few quality reference books and the Internet can’t help with. Thorough research and an eye for detail will help you prepare yourself for the task.

Subgenres

• Historical whodunnit

This subgenre involves crime-solving and mystery with a setting that has historical significance. Popular examples would include Umberto Eco’s ‘The Name of The Rose’ and the ‘Roma Sub Rosa’ novels by Steven Saylor.

• Alternative history

As its name suggests, this subgenre is an exploration of ‘what if’s’ and their consequences. This subgenre is usually written with elements of other genres like science fiction and fantasy.

Time-travel is a popular feature in this subgenre, too. The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov is an example of writing in this subgenre. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick is another with a (very common) Second World War alternative ending scenario.

• Historical romance – a lot of what now appears as historical fiction was in fact just written a long time ago. So copying an old style is a way of naturally producing ‘historical’ fiction.

• War – a vast area with an endless supply of real-life stories.

• Historical fantasy or science fiction – includes steam punk, Alt SF.

Settings

• Use an existing location.

If you choose an actual place, make sure you refer to its condition in that time period. E.g. if you use Malaysia as your main location, remember that it had a different name before 1963 (Malaya) and that most buildings in Kuala Lumpur (which was only made the capital city in 1896) were made of wood and thatched roofs before circa 1881.

• Use a fictional location.

Make sure the geographical location of this place makes sense (Villages and sand dunes are not common in Austria). Keep your vision of the place intact by including pictures of it, or add several pictures of places that closely resemble it.

• Keep track of time.

Use a sequence of boxes to keep your chronology of events correct.

Characters

• Writing non-fictional characters?

Do your homework. Know everything about them from their birth-dates to their sexual orientation. Make sure the people you choose are represented fairly and as true-to-life as possible. Avoid skewed perspectives of these characters as this will influence your reader’s experience of the story too.

• Writing fictional characters?

You can choose to model these characters after existing figures in history. Make them realistic and relatable to the readers.

Plot

• If your story is based on real historical events, you know how the plot goes (unless you are writing alt history).

Keep in mind not to be biased. Write about the events as they really happened and not as how you think they happened.

• Taking the alternate history route?

Here’s your chance to shape the future (or present, depends on how you look at it) of the world. This will make your story a cross-genre piece.

• Don’t let a predictable ending make your story bland.

Sub-plots can vary in conclusion (sub-plots – like romantic relationships and family issues).

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