As a historian, there are just aspects of context that drive me nuts in what is being sold as historical fiction these days. This is not a negative commentary on the quality of characterization or plot development – quite the contrary, one can write a brilliant mystery or family narrative without the advantages of accurate historical context. But to me, going to all the trouble of working plots, viewpoints, and intriguing dialogue but not getting the context right is a half effort – and is as likely to leave your readers as well as YOU feeling somehow short-changed. Why not go all the way? Quality is never a waste of time.
So – this historian is going to give you her two cents (plus inflation!) There is absolutely no reason why you can’t set your sights on writing the finest historical work headed for the bookstore shelves. While I can’t promise your book will be picked up by an agent or a publisher, I can promise that I will share with you my perspective on getting that context right. And every tool you use in crafting your fiction helps to set you apart from other authors. Unless you’re writing for the sheer pleasure of it, you are going to be selling that novel. Never forget that novel-writing is both an art and a business. You are the artist, but 90% of the people you’ll deal with are in business. Your job is to give them a product of your artistic genius that they can sell, and sell, and sell some more.
With that in mind I am presenting a three-part series of posts (maybe even more) aimed at helping you with historical context. It’s a selfish endeavor – not only do I like writing about this and find that my own skills improve when I discuss these, but it means that there will be more books in the future that I will love reading. Not just enjoy … but love!
Before you start, you’ll need a few things: a Journal to scribble down your ideas and thoughts; a pen you adore writing with (but won’t bleed through the journal paper); and a file folder to hold your research copies, photos, etc. If you’re not afraid of speaking your ideas or findings out loud, get a recorder or use the voice recorder on your phone (I know I have that feature on my iPhone.)
Time to start … now!
T.E. MacArthur – Historian, Artist, Author