Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Finding Stories for Historical Fiction

I love historical fiction. When I have a chance to read a fantastic story, it feels like I am transported back into time, getting a great story, and at the same time, learning a great deal about a historical time period. It is unfortunate, however, to read so many stories that the only thing that makes it historical is the time stamp on Chapter 1 or the outer cover that has a character clearly from another time period, or the time stamp from the publisher.

For a lot of authors, this is their only concept for writing something historical, but I want to take the time today to talk about a great approach for developing a great historical piece of fiction. This is actually an approach one of my authors uses on her stories.

One of the first things this author does is travel a lot. She loves taking trips around the world, and while there, take the time to explore the culture and background of the location. She has not come back from a trip yet where she has not found some great story ideas. What she does is pretty simple. She takes those historical tours most hotels and cities offer. As she travels, she learns about individuals who lived during that time. This becomes the basis for a lot of her stories.

Now, let me explain one thing before I go to far. She DOES NOT take those characters and fictionalize their stories. She just uses the lives that those "real" individuals had, and then builds a story 100% on her own using that concept as the ground work.

A second approach that she likes to use is to pick a time period that she plans to write about and then start researching historical events that took place at that time. These might be political upheavals within the country, trade or border disputes, you name it. The key is, find something that is going on and then create characters that would be forced to deal with that situation.

The nice thing about each of these approach is that you have now given yourself access to a ton of primary resources out there on your topic. For example, this author had done a story about early steeple chase races in England. Once she knew the time period, she was able to access actual news accounts of a single race that happened to have a controversial ending. That allowed her to weave a story around that event. What did she have access to? Actual horse names in the race, the riders, the actual bets that took place, the play-by-play account of the race, and a whole lot more. She even got this information directly from the bookmakers right there at the actual racetrack who pulled out the books written at that time. That is killer research!

Finally, my recommendation is to avoid those "source books" for ideas. These are those generic "Dummies Guides" to a particular time period. While this information is great for some general ideas, getting the great story ideas for your projects is not going to happen.

Just remember that historical fiction is about "real" time periods. Don't fake your way around it and you will have some great success!

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post! I'm immersed in a story that takes place in a certain era in Sacramento, and I love doing the research for it. But the characters and story are all fictional. The research is only for the world they live and breathe in.