Sharpen your pencils. Buy a new biro. Wipe down your computer keyboard.
The next Association of Christian Writers competition is for historical fiction with a Christian element (for example, a Christian character or a Christian setting). The deadline is 31 December 2017 and the word count 1200 words. More information will be available on the ACW website any time now. I’m giving you, my Dear Readers, the heads up, a little more thinking time.
The judge will be Claire Dunn (C F Dunn), author of The Secret of the Journal series.
Unlike Claire, I’m not a published historical novelist, but I do write historical short stories, some of which have been published online, and I am currently writing a novel set in a period which is just too recent to be historical. I’d hesitate to offer advice, but I’d like to share what I’ve learned about historical fiction writing as I went along.
- Write a story, not a history book. The characters should lead, as in any other fiction.
- Although you’ll carry out a lot of research into your historical setting, resist the temptation to include it all in your text; in fact, use very little of it. Georgette Heyer, author supreme of Regency romances, rarely mentions any solid history (the Battle of Waterloo, once or twice, perhaps). Your research may inform what your characters don’t do and think. For instance, in my novel, at various times, nobody could use a telephone, because the government had cut the lines.
- Every historical fact must be accurate, especially dates. Build yourself a historical timeline and write the events of your story beside it. https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/is a useful source for finding out the days of the week for specific dates in recent history. Use Wikipedia for general schedules of world events in particular years.
- Do a site visit, remembering that cities and places change.
- As well as political history, research what people wore, what they ate, how they travelled, what they thought. If possible, read contemporary books, and look at photos. If you can find any cartoons, or any jokes, study them intensely. Listen to popular music, including folk songs, paying particular attention to the lyrics. Look up any words or phrases you don’t understand, as these may be the key to the hidden soul of the people you’re writing about.
- Don’t bend historical happenings to suit your plot. Use real history to generate confrontation in your story.
- Consider what your characters are in a position to know, and, more importantly, what they don’t know. The general British public didn’t know about gas chambers in concentration camps until some time after World War Two had ended. And how they learned it; the characters in my WIP learned all that was important, listening to Radio Free Europe whilst leaning against a toilet seat.
- In stories set in recent history (after about 1900), real historical persons should feature hardly at all. Before 1900, use them if you wish, accurately, and without lapsing into biography.
- Editors of historical fiction ezines and mags tell me that stories set in The Second World War and the Victorian era are in glut – avoid these settings. Regency period, also, but certain markets can’t get enough of them.
- Whereas people of every age have the same personalities, those living in byegone eras have their own worldviews and ways of treating servants, other races, animals, women, children. They were definitely not politically correct. No girl knights, please, or Roman families without slaves. Also, European and North American characters in earlier eras are more likely to have strong religious views – a bonus, seeing as you need to include a Christian element.
(If you’ve read my last More Than Writers blog post, you will have read all this before. Sorry. It’s worth advertising the historical fiction comp again.)