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How to Write a Historical fiction Novel

Updated on March 31, 2014

Okay. So, I have written a historical fiction.

And, should I ask, just what is a historical fiction? The obvious, of course; a fictional story that has been written in a milieu of the past.

To further simplify the meaning, lets go with the following explanation: A fiction novel is a story which is entirely made up. It doesn't have much to do with certain facts. It is just a story being told. The people and events are solely the imagination of the writer. And, any reference to real people or incidents are intended to give a sense of reality.

With a historical fiction, it is also a story being told; one that is made up. The major difference is that the story takes place in a backdrop of a particular place and time in history and incorporates real events that have happened.

A historical fiction is one that is often woven within a rich historical tapestry of people and events that occurred many years ago. In 'Gone With the Wind', the story is fictional but a lot of the events actually took place. However, Margaret Mitchell, in writing the novel wrote of events that weren't taking place at the time of her writing. They were events that happened over sixty years before. 'Gone with the Wind' is therefore a historical written novel. To the contrary, a novel that was written during the era in which events happened would be considered a contemporary novel. There may, however, be some controversial issues with that. In some historical fictions the characters may be of actual people from the era. But what is most important about writing a historical fiction is the 'setting'. The setting must be authentic. It must accurately draw upon the time. Most certainly, major events taking place during the time setting should be brought out.

The events that take place in a historical novel often occur in the background while the characters or people of the historical time are experiencing life and dealing with the situations involved within the plot of the story. This could prove to be a very rewarding aspect of the book during the book review. The dialogue should mimic the dialogue spoken during the time. The story is told through the dialogue of the characters. By that, the characters' role-play through personal experience or reaction to what is happening in history. The writer shows the reaction of the character.

A Word About the Setting

Many historical fictions have settings set at different times in the past such as: James Clavell's 'The Asian Saga.' Some noted Black authors who have written historical novels that have been made into movies includes, Alice Walker of 'The Color Purple,' Toni Morrison, 'Beloved' and 'Roots' by the late Alexander Murray Palmer Haley.

All Facts And No Fiction?

Historical fictions do not necessary consist entirely of all facts. As the name implies, 'Historical fiction' is a work of fiction. Therefore, it is not based only on facts. It blends historical facts with made up stories. When constructing the historical fiction a description of the place must be vividly explained for the reader to see. Usually there is a considerable amount of research that goes before in order to create authenticity.

Keep In Mind

Authors of historical fiction are first and foremost novelists, having knowledge of and implementation of the tools and skills to write a compelling story that keeps the reader's interest and attention. The plot, point of view, characterization, dialogue, voice, etc., all play equal importance in writing a novel; even more so in the writing of a historical novel. More research, however, into the setting is what often sets the historical novel apart from other genres.

Ever wonder the word 'historical' has a daunting quality - sort of an esoteric presence? Intimidated by the amount of research that has to go before? It all depends. In reality it depends on the writer. A person who is writing a historical novel and has already lived during that time, may find much of it being a matter of recall. They may not have to go into a great deal of research to learn what happened in the year 1960 if he or she was raised in that period of time and lived in that part of the world in which the story takes place. A historical novel written in today's time capturing events that happened in 1960, can be looked upon as a specialty or sub-genre, as Richard Sharp puts it: 'The Sixties.' But how far back from the present must a novel be to be called a historical novel?

...with every passing moment; a little history is created.

Richard Sharp in his essay 'The Sixties: The New Frontier for Historical Fiction' brought to my attention that the 1960s has slide into the definition of historical. He speaks of two of his books, 'Cristal Ships' and 'The Duke Don't Dance,' both written in the time period of the Sixties. Sarah Johnson, Book Review Editor, for the Historical Novels Review, in her journal she defines a historical novel as a novel which is set at least fifty years in the past.

Indeed, in colleges now days our young generation is taught American history of the Sixties.

A word about classics

A classic novel is one that has received critical judgment from those who have reviewed and judged an author's work and found to be of great importance with respect to the outcome. There is what is called 'intrinsic value' in classical fiction novels that resonates in such themes as tragedy and loss. A Classical novel is thought of as timeless. Across the globe people can relate to the intrinsic values portrayed in the novel.

A bit more detail

Although the historical novel is a novel which is set at least fifty years in the past, the pivotal point is that the events of the novel should not be occurring at the same time that the novel is being written. This will constitute it being a contemporary novel.

So, a historical novel is one that is written within the backdrop of events that have occurred at least fifty years ago; and the author should be writing about an era that is not of his or her current time.

In my forthcoming novel, Luukas Haddon takes you on a voyage encompassing atrocities of the Holocaust; oppression in the South up to the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March. It is packed with suspense, romance, tragedy, loss, and hope.

I grew up in the South during the early sixties. So, it was natural for me to begin my story with information I knew to write about. But like other historical writers, I had to do some research into the setting; particularly those settings related to Ferriday, Louisiana, New York, and the Montgomery March. Although I already knew a little about each. I visited Ferriday years ago to visit some of my relatives for the summer when I was about six or seven years old. I still recall the whiff of lone pine wood from sawmills. The scenes throughout the book are as real as real can get. I have been to New York on two occasions. What I know about the Montgomery March I learned from newspapers, in books, and on the television screen, and what I heard many people talking about as a child coming up in New Orleans which is my birthplace and hometown. Likewise, with the Holocaust and persecution of Jews, I learned most all of it in my studies of Jewish History.

Originally I thought of Luukas Haddon as a mainstream sort of romance fiction. Since now I'm pleased to think in terms of it as a new sub-genre of historical fiction. Now that the novel is with my editors and publishing company, the final genre will be decided based on its readability and commercial advantages. But whether or not to consider it a mainstream or historical novel, it nevertheless has much to do with the times of the fifties and sixties as it were back then in the South.

The story begins with Luukas as a young man from Finland coming to America. He is the heir of a multi-billion dollar industry. First finding it difficult to make friends at his new school he wanted to return to Finland. Brought up in a close knitted family - family ties and home are of utmost importance to him. How will he fare the situation when His wife is unable to give birth and he will never adopt any children? Being a devoted Catholic, divorce is not an option for him. But he was taught that procreation between the races is taboo. How will all that change when he meets and gets to know the alluring Mamela McDowell, the Southern Belle from Ferriday? Mamela, a civil rights activist and veteran of Bloody Sunday had endured notorious brutality and marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr., in the campaign for voting rights.

Luukas Haddon will mark my first published novel. It is due for release later this year. There is a sequel which follows that I am currently working on.


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    • DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. So disappointed to see no comments. I know the feeling. Just keep writing what you feel. I'm very pleased to see one of early Weston Wagons West episodes referenced above. Neat! Keep at it. I appreciated your hub, very much! ;-)


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