My Journey into Historical Fiction
My latest endeavor takes me on a new journey, away from the comfort of writing a traditional novel. I’m in the midst of writing a historical fiction novel. As I’ve quickly learned, there’s a fine balance between including too little or too much history in the story. Too little, and it won’t immerse the reader in the period; too much, and the novel reads like a history book. It’s important to tread the line because neither one is desirable.
Perhaps nothing is more nerve-racking than deciding whether to bend the truth with the aim of writing a good story. It’s fiction after all, so some bending may be necessary. There are no set limits and most history is open to some degree of interpretation. It’s up to the discretion of the author, but it serves no purpose to change verifiable facts. My approach has been to straddle a middle ground. It seems to work for me.
That takes me to dialogue. There’s nothing more disappointing than reading a historical novel in which the dialogue is full of modern colloquialisms. It should never happen, but it’s not desirable to write dialogue as though it’s a Shakespeare play. Words and phrases that could be at home today and in the past should be used, so the reader can easily understand the story. Authenticity is critical, not absolute accuracy.
Research is a demanding area because only a small fraction will find its way into the story, but it doesn’t mean the remaining information is worthless. All the research offers valuable insight into an era, so the story can be written convincingly. The challenge is to integrate the characters and historical details seamlessly. A good story weaves historical items, such as a tool, into the story to advance the plot, rather than offering a simple description of a particular piece.
Lastly, the most challenging area for me is depicting everyday life in a particular era, say 4th century Eastern Europe. It’s unusually difficult to find the information needed, but it’s essential for a realistic story. I lean on research and judgment. It’s the safest method.
That’s it for now. I have to get back to writing!