Writing Historical Fiction, Part 1.

Recently I attended a Historical Fiction Writing course at the NSW Writers’ Centre.  Our instructor for the day was Dianne Armstrong, an award winning author, journalist and travel writer.

It was great to hear about her own experiences and to listen to some of the projects from other students.  Although tired after a long weekend driving to Sydney, I came home feeling a bit over-whelmed, but nevertheless awed and inspired.

Here are just some of the things I learned:-

  • Read as much as you can about your time period before you start writing – get a fair amount of research done before you start.  Researching as you go along stops the creative process.
  • You need to have some passion in a particular era.
  • Read books that were written at the time to get an idea of how people addressed each other, etc.
  • Read good historical fiction.
  • Give enough information to let the reader know where you are – get grounded in the period without bogging down the reader.
  • Your story has to be important to you in order to help keep your own interest.
  • Make sure your facts are accurate.
  • If possible, visit the place your story is set, if not, research as much as possible.  This helps with atmosphere.
  • Be selective of details – make sure they have a purpose.
  • What was going on in the world during that time?  This can be brought up in dialogue between characters.
  • Write a description of time and place without ‘spelling it out’.
  • Use scenery with the point of view of your character in mind.  Weave it in – don’t list things.
  • You want details, but not to swamp the reader.  You need to know more details than you put in.  Put details in that are powerful and meaningful.  The story becomes more powerful and vivid that way – insert details to help set the scene.
  • Experts are very willing to help – emphasise you want accuracy and be sincere.
  • If your story involves indigenous Australians, read as much as you can about them during your time period to get an idea of their feelings towards whites, etc.
  • Inanimate objects can play an important part in your story.
  • Use stronger verbs than adverbs.  Adverbs weaken the action.

Next week, I’ll be discussing characters in historical fiction.

Image copyright MGM

2 thoughts on “Writing Historical Fiction, Part 1.

  1. What a great list of tips for historical writers. Hope the weekend was inspiring for you 🙂

    1. Debbie Johansson 28/02/2012 — 4:10 am

      Thanks Catherine. I really enjoyed the course and came home with plenty of inspiration! 🙂

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