Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Make It Simple But Make It Beautiful

As I said yesterday, I was attending the Historical Novel Society Conference in San Diego. I have to tell you, this is an AMAZING group of authors and if you are into your history, this is the place to be. Of course, out of every conference, I am fortunate to end up with a good list of topics to discuss here on the blog. Today, I want to talk about idea development for your stories.

One of the things I discovered both during the pitch sessions as well as listening to writers talk in the hallways, was the level of obscurity I saw in many of the stories. In other words, these authors were writing about some very "off the radar" time periods, cultures and figures. But here is the issue. In an effort to be "unique" the stories became something the audience is likely not to drawn to and therefore, becomes difficult, if not impossible to sell.

Now don't get me wrong. I am not saying I want you all writing in the current (dare I say the word?) trends, but be careful getting too extreme.

While you might be totally interested in your topic. While you might know everything about a 120 BCE Lithuanian uprising, you have to remember that half of the reading population doesn't even know Latvia is a country. With this in mind, when you pick a topic this obscure, it requires a lot more world building just to make the story accessible to the reader. In many ways, think of this as a Fantasty or a Sci-Fi. Readers have never been there or seen it before. Now add in the language and the terminology and you really have your work cut out for you.

What we would rather see is to take a topic we are familiar with and spin it in a new direction. Give us a new twist. This allows you to take more time for character and plot development because you are counting on a readership already familiar enough with your world you have set the story in.



  1. Great advice, Scott. I find it impossible to relate to many of the time periods and places people were passionate about- not that there isn't a place for them in a small indie market or in non-fiction, IMO. By the way, loved your hat on the way out, and it was nice meeting you. Teaching nerds unite!

  2. Mr. Eagan, I enjoy reading novels set in obscure periods of history as long as I know the author has done the homework. If a particular battle, hand tool, or yearly festival is mentioned in the book, I should be able to Google it and read more about it. I enjoy having my interest piqued. It's helpful when an author has a page at the back of the book that tells what is historical record or based upon true events or characters.

  3. I love historical romances, and I must admit, I rarely stray from familiar settings and time periods.

    Sounds like a fun conference!

  4. I have a hard time with strange science fiction settings. The author really has to describe their world, but without over doing it, making it more complicated then it needs to be. Great post!