On Writing Historical Fiction

My usual stick figure hates studying, so her friend Dani from Camila Song Project kindly stepped in.

Do you consciously stray from historical fiction because it often requires a great deal of research?

I do.

Not so much for novels–I haven’t hit upon any great historically-based novel ideas yet–but for short stories. I’ve come up with a few concepts for history-driven speculative fiction pieces, but the investment of time and energy ultimately puts me off.

I’m trying to finish a novel; I’m already pressed for time. Committing to the study of a historical event or period to write a short story that may end up in the rejection bin just isn’t encouraging. Because if I’m going to do a piece that calls for historical reference, I don’t want to be lazy about it and rely on the imaginative and mind-bending nature of my genre to clear me of any responsibility toward accuracy. I want it to be obvious that I put real work into researching the subject.

Well, a few days ago I wrote a short piece–a snapshot of a compelling moment brought on by a thematic prompt. I decided to develop a short story around this snapshot, with a full plot and main character. As I was writing, a historical event came to mind. It’s an event that has come to mind many times before, only to be promptly ignored. But it fit this particular snapshot so well, I couldn’t give it the brush-off. It kept coming back like a love-starved puppy.

So I pushed past my apprehensions and am now entrenched in research. Not just entrenched but absorbed. I never thought I’d enjoy studying history, but here I am, taking to this expedition like Indiana Jones. Who knows? I may get an idea for a future novel out of the research I’m putting into this short story.

***

The more I actively write and try to get published, the more risks I seem to be taking. In the competitive world of writing, you can’t always be certain that hard work will pay off in the end. But I’m coming to find (rather than simply pretending to believe) that the act of trying promotes opportunity, progress and education.

Do you play the game of avoidance with certain writing challenges? What are they and how did you triumph over them (if you did)?

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7 thoughts on “On Writing Historical Fiction

  1. there are long pauses between some of my blog posts because they are hard to get out of my system – very emotional memories and such. i think that’s different from research though. in trying to write a zombie breakout story i realized just how much research had to be done. i though, “hmm, perhaps I should start with what I do know, not DNA sequencing or virology.”

    • DNA sequencing and virology would send me running for the hills. This is why I’ll never be a Sci-Fi author. It’s cool that you’re getting all science-y with your zombie fic.
      And I can completely understand the challenge of writing stories that are personal to you. Sometimes you need to get your experiences out and share them, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy thing to do.

  2. I’m a-okay with researching techie & medical stuff. But, when it comes to ‘Historical’ accuracy, I get bored so quickly. For me, the time isn’t worth it because I’m too much of a perfectionist.

    Now, DNA & Virology – those are topics I’d gladly take on and research! [Currently researching embryonic gestation & eugenics for a novel.] I believe this difference springs from the fact that I can spiral outward from the scientifica facts and no one can protest that the outcome isn’t possible.

    On the other hand, it only takes the inclusion one little vocabulary word, the additions of buttons to an outfit, or an anachronistic architectural detail to explode days and days of b.o.r.i.n.g. research!

    • Haha! I guess we all have our personal preferences. I admit, I haven’t actually attempted any kind of scientific research for writing purposes, but it might say something that I entered college as a biology major and graduated with a degree in English. I do see your point about the flexibility of sci-fi or literature that references science. Though I don’t find the necessary historical details boring, I do find them to be a sizable time drain.

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