Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Writing historical fiction

There are two kinds of writers who write historical fiction.

The first kind is the writer who LOVES history for history's sake.  She adores research.  He pores over primary and secondary sources.  She pins maps on her bulletin board.  He travels to see and smell and hear the places he's writing about.

The second kind of writer has a more utilitarian view of history.  If the setting works for the story, she'll use it.  As for as the research part, he'll do the absolute minimum--gathering just enough of the facts (ma'am) to get by.

Which is the more common type of historical fiction writer?  I suspect the first kind.  Generally speaking, writers (and readers!) who love history are naturally drawn to the genre.

Why am I even talking about this?  Because I had lunch with a writer friend yesterday who is researching turn-of-the-century Utah in order to write a mystery.  And, in fact, he has a lot of the plot worked out.  But here's the thing.  He often avoids the actual writing part, because he worries about getting the historical details right.

Here's what I told him.  STOP RESEARCHING.  He has enough to write the story.  And if he gets stuck, he can connect the historical dots later.  As important as the research is, it shouldn't get in the way of writing the story itself.  It shouldn't be a diversion.

Why do I know this?  Because I am the second kind of historical fiction writer.  I don't love research because it feels like HOMEWORK, duh.  And when I wrote Charlotte's Rose, I got some of the details wrong.  For sure.  But at least the story got written.

I know.  I'm a genius.


Emily said...

I loved, loved, LOVED CHARLOTTE'S ROSE. So there's that.

Louise Plummer said...

I absolutely agree. You have to write the story. It ends up that you don't use nearly as many historical details as your large brain has sopped up.