Writing Historical Fiction, Part 2.

Continuing on from last week’s post, this week I’m going to talk about characters within historical fiction.

The majority of people who attended the historical fiction course with me at the NSW Writers’ Centre, were writing about real characters from history and even stories about distant relations. I felt quite alone in creating a purely fictitious character!  Funnily enough, when discussing characters, our teacher mentioned Scarlett O’Hara, saying she was ‘a flawed character if ever there was one’.  When it comes to characters in works of fiction, Scarlett is one of my favourites – she is truly memorable because of her flaws, and as writers this is what we want from our characters.

  • Characters help drive the plot.
  • Readers want to go into a different world through your characters.
  • An interesting time in history can’t be interesting unless you have engaging characters.  Test their moral strength so that readers can identify with them today.
  • Fictionalise real characters.
  • When writing about real characters, it’s good to visit family to get more research, anecdotes, etc.
  • You need to have real characters in the right context – don’t make them do anything out of character.  Research the real character.
  • Characters can have weaknesses to keep them real so readers can identify with them.
  • Know the main things about your character before you write – the rest will evolve as your story progresses.  Characters need to ‘grow’ and not remain static.
  • Trust your subconscious – you don’t have to know everything that’s going to happen in your story before you write your book.
  • Characters have to indicate something about themselves; what they’re thinking.   There has to be a purpose in their dialogue.  Do not use modern speech or jargon.
  • If you’re not sure about details, ask yourself:- does it further the plot? set the scene? establish character? set the atmosphere?  Find a way to weave what you want into the story.

Above all, writing historical fiction needs to be historically accurate, well researched and have engaging characters.

Image copyright MGM


2 thoughts on “Writing Historical Fiction, Part 2.

  1. Some of this read like a character checklist, making sure characters have flaws/weaknesses and learn something about themselves.

    1. Debbie Johansson 27/10/2016 — 3:45 am

      Hi Adam. The list demonstrates the importance of characters within our stories and in getting the right ‘voice’ when relating to historical fiction. I hope you found this list of some help to writing to your own characters. 🙂

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