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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Historical Fiction 101- Make It Real



I won't do it. You can't make me. Nope, nuh-uh, not on your life. Not even if you promised me an all-expense paid trip to Egypt.

Well... maybe.

There is one rule for writing historical fiction.

Don't mess with history.

I can't make Hatshepsut eat with a fork (they weren't invented yet) or ride a camel through the desert (no camels in Egypt in 1500BC). On a bigger scale, I can't ignore events that really happened, but instead have to work them into the story and make them believable.

Sometimes this is a royal pain in the arse, but it makes the story real. That's what matters in historical fiction- a good story that really could have happened.

What's the #1 rule for your genre?
Calvin & Hobbes comic from Bill Waterson.

18 comments:

J. L. Jackson said...

The thing I enjoy most about historical fiction is the research. Without it, the story will not be worth writing.

Jade said...

The number one rule for my genre is: Don't talk about the Silagree.

(Yes, I have snapped. Why do you ask?)

Also, I think you do a most excellent job with the real events in Hatshepsut.

Stephanie Thornton said...

J.L.- I love the research! I'm learning about an era I don't know much about now and absolutely loving it.

Jade- I promise not to talk about the Silagree. Especially since you've snapped. :)

Anita Saxena said...

I agree that if you're writing historical fiction, historical accuracy makes the story authentic to its time period. I write young adult fantasy, so I just make stuff up, but the rules of my fake world must be consistent and believable.

Anne Gallagher said...

That's the hardest part of writing historical. Making sure the facts are straight.

I once had to move the timeline of all my books because the events in history didn't match to the events in my book. It didn't make a difference for most of what I had written but I lost some great incidents because they hadn't happened yet. And that was a bummer.

Vicki Tremper said...

When I first started writing seriously I said, no way will I write historical fiction. How will I possibly do all that research and build a whole world I've never seen? And now I'm writing historical fiction. Sigh. I couldn't help it. I came up with a story idea that I loved and it just happened to involve a time period in which I did not live.

C'est la vie!

Vicki Tremper said...

Oh, and by the way, I can't wait to read Hatshepsut!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Hmmm... I think for PBs and chapter books it sort of depends on who you talk to. "Don't preach" is a big one. And these days, word count is like a religion. :-)

VR Barkowski said...

As a reader, I expect thorough research and authenticity regardless of genre. That's what I try to provide. Even science fiction and fantasy world-building have to be reasonable and sound for the reader to buy into the story.

As for the #1 rule of my genre? I've no idea, but I'm sure I break it regularly. :)

Court Ellyn said...

When you write stories with magic, set the rules and don't waver from them. When a character uses magic, there had better be consequences of some kind, physical, social, ecological, something! Or your character becomes a boring Mary Sue who can do whatever they want as need requires.

My first goal was to write historical fiction. I love it! But way back then, I had no access to the research resources I needed, so I had to start making up my own history. Ah, well.

Cheers!

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I write historical mysteries so my big thing is to get the day-to-day details right; whether it be the shoes they wear, the hats they put on their heads, the food they eat or (most importantly) their attitudes about each other and about events. My characters aren't making headlines, but they're certainly aware of what's in them.

Nate Wilson said...

Since I don't write historical fiction, I don't have to worry about accuracy. I do, however, need to make sure every single thing makes sense in the context of the story. If I don't do that, I've lost the reader's trust, and with it, the reader.

As for the #1 rule of my genre, I'll let you know that once I figure out what my genre is...

Mark Noce said...

I luv the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon! Yup ,same rules apply to my historical writing as well:)

The Golden Eagle said...

In away, Science Fiction relates even though it takes place in a completely different world. The technology they use has to fit in with everything else--for example, it's not very realistic to have quantum computers next to inefficient transport.

Jemi Fraser said...

So true!

I tend to make my own rules :) For my steampunk I think it might be to make my world believable.

Amalia T said...

This is why I like working in periods of history where there is less of a written record-- and by less I mean none. ;)

Aubrie said...

That's why I stay away from writing history. The details are a little fuzzy to me.

For fantasy: they don't like to see purple prose : The shimmering elusive white star twinkled as bright as hope, scintillating in the breezy diaphonous light.

haha that was fun!

Libbie H. said...

Good point!

I worked within the bounds of possibility but didn't actually alter known history. Some of the weird choices I made in my Egyptian books: I made Ahmose (Hat's mom) and Mutnofret full sisters, and Mutnofret the elder, instead of just...somehow-related, as they probably were. And in the second book, I got Hatshepsut romantically involved with Iset, her husband's lesser wife. Ooh la la! Those choices will probably tick off hard-core Egypt fans, but they're within the realms of possibility.