American Historical Fiction discussion

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Writing Historical Fiction

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message 1: by Jenny (new)

Jenny Q (Jenny_Q) | 590 comments Mod
This thread is for anyone who is writing or thinking about writing historical fiction! Thoughts, tips, questions, and discussions are welcome. We've got a few published authors in our group and hopefully they'll chime in from time to time!


message 2: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 52 comments So I decided to write a novel about a young couple who emigrates from Québec to the deep South in the first decade of the Twentieth Century.

I know some things about my characters and I have the basic plot outlined.Do I know a lot about the settings or the history? Not yet, I'm researching.

I spent a week on the Isle aux Coudres (in the Saint Lawrence River) this summer. My friends spent five days driving me around to places I wanted to see. I took many photos of landscape. I love the place. It's gorgeous! This is where my story begins, a story about a young couple. How they meet and marry despite some family objections. How they happen to leave Québec and the disasters that befall them in their new country.

No worries -- it will be a clean read and have a satisfying ending.


message 3: by Johanna (new)

Johanna Moran (JohannaMoran) | 12 comments Sounds interesting, Jeanne. I love assimilation stories. I also love research. My new story starts in 1870, in Schenectady. It moves from there to NYC, to Chicago, to Little Rock, to Jefferson, Texas.

Is this your first novel?


message 4: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 52 comments Yes, this is my first novel, and while I was in Québec, I found another idea I want to write.

And the facilitator at the postgrad writers'conference said my short story, "Elder Cares" should be expanded to a novel.

Whoa, I have work to do!


message 5: by Johanna (new)

Johanna Moran (JohannaMoran) | 12 comments Jamie Ford's very successful HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET began life as a short story.

It can be daunting, but I prefer the long form.

Go for it, Jeanne. Just dig right in.


message 6: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 52 comments Thanks, Johanna. I appreciate your encouragement. I'm excited to see what I can do.


message 7: by K.P. (new)

K.P. Vorenberg | 12 comments All I can say is do lots of research, even the smallest of details need to be researched in order to achieve a seamless read. The best compliment I received for my novel, Tierra Red, was that the publishing committee could not tell where fiction began and history ended.

Kathy

Tierra Red by K.P. Vorenberg
Tierra Red


message 8: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 52 comments Kathy,

Yes, that was a huge compliment from the publishing committee, a compliment to be savored. Congratulations!


message 9: by Jeanne (last edited Sep 19, 2010 09:00PM) (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 52 comments Johanna wrote:

Go for it, Jeanne. Just dig right in.

I have added this to my favorite quotes and I have taped it onto my monitor as a headline.


message 10: by Johanna (new)

Johanna Moran (JohannaMoran) | 12 comments Thanks, Jeanne. I should take my own advice.


message 11: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 52 comments The hours slip by, then the days...


message 12: by Kae (last edited Mar 14, 2011 12:05PM) (new)

Kae Cheatham (uppitywoman) | 17 comments I'm writing a novel that starts at the end of the Second Seminole War in the U.S. and then moves West to Indian Territory. I've e-published the first section as a stand-alone novella. Hope to have another section by January. The entire book will be done (hopefully) by next May.
Having a problem with my characters not conforming to what history has proscribed. I'm hoping that my characters will be original enough to stand on their own. I can't force them into cliches. Has anyone else faced this problem? How do you deal with it?

If anyone uses an eBook reader or has the App for PC or phone, I'd appreciate comments on the first section.


and on Smashwords


message 13: by K.P. (new)

K.P. Vorenberg | 12 comments Kae wrote: "I'm writing a novel that starts at the end of the Second Seminole War in the U.S. and then moves West to Indian Territory. I've e-published the first section as a stand-alone novella. Hope to have ..."

You only thought you were telling this story, right? Doncha know that our characters have a nasty habit of taking over the reins and not wanting to turn them back? And, oh my, the paths those characters lead us down . . . .

Eventually you will just have to put your foot down!

Kathy

Tierra Red by K.P. VorenbergTierra Red


message 14: by Kae (last edited Mar 14, 2011 12:05PM) (new)

Kae Cheatham (uppitywoman) | 17 comments K.P. wrote: You only thought you were telling this story, right? Doncha know that our characters have a nasty habit of taking over the reins and not wanting to turn them back?

True. So true!!


message 15: by Holly (new)

Holly Weiss (HollyWeiss) | 83 comments Just saw a "how to" for writing historical fiction by James Alexander Thom.
The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction: Researching and Writing Historical Fiction

I love his fiction. Anyone read this non-fiction?


message 16: by Johanna (new)

Johanna Moran (JohannaMoran) | 12 comments Don't know him. Will have to check him out. Thanks for the tip.


message 17: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 52 comments Oh thank you, Holly. It would be worth the price of the book just to know if I'm on the right track, and additional research ideas would be so helpful!


message 18: by Holly (new)

Holly Weiss (HollyWeiss) | 83 comments Jeanne wrote: "Oh thank you, Holly. It would be worth the price of the book just to know if I'm on the right track, and additional research ideas would be so helpful!"

Critics said he talked more about his successful writing, rather than giving us tips. :( I ordered it so I can see for myself.


message 19: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 52 comments Oops, I've ordered it too. There must be some good hints in it. We can compare notes.


message 20: by Hallie (new)

Hallie Sawyer (Hallie_Sawyer) | 1 comments Yes, I read the James Alexander Thom book. He makes some excellent suggestions and points out things to remember when writing.

One thing I have learned is that the organization of the research is as important as the research itself. I love that part of writing historical fiction because I love learning new things but there is a fine line of how much is too much. Good luck to everyone!


message 21: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 52 comments Thanks, Hallie. I really need help organizing my research. This will be money well spent.


message 22: by K.P. (new)

K.P. Vorenberg | 12 comments Hallie wrote: "Yes, I read the James Alexander Thom book. He makes some excellent suggestions and points out things to remember when writing.

One thing I have learned is that the organization of the research ..."


You hit the nail on the head about organizing your research. While I am working on the sequel to my novel, the two file drawers of research I compiled for the first book have been invaluable. Then there will always be one small detail that is nearly impossible to unearth in the new research going on at the moment which ultimately leads to many more file folders being created while discovering details I never knew existed!

Kathy

Tierra Red


message 23: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 52 comments Holly mentioned somewhere that her husband bought her an early Sears Catalogue and that it was helpful in writing about the early 20th Century. I just looked on E-bay and there are several 1902 Sears Roebuck Catalogues (reprinted in 1969 I think) and okay, they're not brand new, but not expensive.


message 24: by Tess (new)

Tess Hilmo | 1 comments I'm new to this group so hope you don't mind me chiming in...I am a huge fan of American history, though maybe more recent history than most.

In regards to organizing research...when I was writing my novel, With A Name Like Love (Macmillan Sept 2011), I was given the advice to keep an outfile with an ongoing bibliography. Man, am I glad I did because, when the novel sold, my editor asked for all my sources. I was able to quickly forward that file to her and it saved us (and the pub house) lots of backtracking!


message 25: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne Adair | 163 comments when I was writing my novel, With A Name Like Love (Macmillan Sept 2011), I was given the advice to keep an outfile with an ongoing bibliography. Man, am I glad I did because, when the novel sold, my editor asked for all my sources.

Tess, congrats on your upcoming release. Yes, the bibliography is a must when you're writing historical fiction. I always include one with my manuscripts. Other good places to put those references are on your web site and as "lists" on Amazon.

Bibliographies help substantiate that you've performed research for your fiction. Some readers totally grok all those sources, are grateful when you provide them, and will happily bury themselves in the list.

Suzanne Adair


message 26: by Michael (new)

Michael T. | 2 comments Hi --

After some two years and a lot of research, I finished an historical novel set in the early 1870s in New York, Minnesota, Canada, and England. It's based on actual people and events, and I did a great deal of research in old copies on the New York Times as well as Manitoba Historical Society articles.

I'm glad to have found this group, because my impression is that a large part of the historical fiction lovers center their attention on England and France from 1400 to 1800.

Thanks,

Mike Hertz


message 27: by Richard (last edited Mar 27, 2011 05:47PM) (new)

Richard Barager Some thoughts on writing historical fiction, first from two of the very best, then from me--qualified only because my debut novel happens to be a work of historical fiction.

It is hard to find a higher authority on this than E. L. Doctorow, whose 11 or so novels span the last 150 years of American history. He is called by Jess Walter of the Boston Globe “our laureate of historical fiction,” and by Joyce Carol Oates, writing in The New Yorker, “our great chronicler of American mythology.” His Civil War book "The March" is breathtaking.

Doctorow, when asked in a Time Magazine interview what the difference was between a historian writing history and a novelist writing historical fiction, responded with this gem of wisdom: "The historian will tell you what happened. The novelist will tell you what it felt like."

Another master of historical fiction is Jeff Sharra--I see that Jenny has his Revolutionary War novel "Rise To Rebellion" on her list. I read it and loved it. The following is a compilation of Sharra's thoughts on writing historical fiction, from an interview with Meredith Allard in The Copperfield Review.

"One distinct frustration of writing historical fiction is that you are dealing with real events, and thus, must stay true to the history. Many times it would be convenient if some character was in a different place, or if events occurred in different order...The time line, the positioning of each person in to the events that were happening around them, all of that is as accurate as I can make it...If you want to take the reader back to another time, you have to go there first, and leave today behind. And, by all means, if it is at all possible, walk the ground."

As for my thoughts, I found in writing "Altamont Augie" that the amateur historian in me was often at war with the novelist in me. It is easy to get caught up in the retelling of fascinating historical incidents and lose the emotional center of a novel that only characters can deliver. My best scenes were scenes where I emotionally inhabited the moment my characters were in. Again, Doctorow said it best:

"The job of a novelist is not to make the reader feel like it is raining; the job of a novelist is to make the reader feel rained upon."


message 28: by Johanna (new)

Johanna Moran (JohannaMoran) | 12 comments Well put, Richard. Best of luck with Altamont Augie. Love the title and I don't even know what it's about, but I will with another click of the mouse.


message 29: by D.K. (last edited Mar 28, 2011 05:11AM) (new)

D.K. LeVick (dklevick) | 8 comments I find the key to writing historical fiction is not in the events (they tend to be fairly clear cut and are usually well defined, even if wrapped in 'mythology' as Joyce Carol Oates stated) but rather in the society around them that created the event. Being able to place the reader into the texture of that societal environment, to me, is the heart of writing historical fiction. To paraphrase Doctorow, historians let the reader know it rained; historical novelists make the reader feel like it rained and the great historical novelists make the reader wring out his clothes.


message 30: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne Adair | 163 comments If you want to take the reader back to another time, you have to go there first, and leave today behind. And, by all means, if it is at all possible, walk the ground.

Great advice. Early into the first draft of Paper Woman, the first book in my suspense series set during the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War, I realized that there was no way a woman of the 21st century was going to get in the heads of protagonists who lived in the 18th century unless I did some drastic intervention. So I dragged my young sons into Revolutionary War reenacting with me.

Well, it worked a lot better than I could have imagined. I often hear from readers who say that I made them smell, hear, see, taste, and feel the Revolutionary War, which is awesome enough. But it now appears that I have two young men who love history for receiving it "hands-on" when they were little. An added bonus, because we reenact on the Crown forces side of the conflict, is that my sons (who now march on the battlefield in red uniforms) can see arguments from the other side. They know that the redcoats didn't think of themselves as villains when they occupied the colonies. They also know that most of the colonists didn't think of them as villains.

Reenacting is world-broadening. I recommend it for any author of historical fiction.

Suzanne Adair


message 31: by Karen (new)

Karen Allen (KarenLynnAllen) | 15 comments A lot of interesting food for thought about writing historical fiction in the above posts. When researching my book,Beaufort 1849, a novel of antebellum South Carolina, I could visit Beaufort (lovely place) but I couldn't visit 1849, however much I longed to. The closest I could get were some Civil War reenactments--though my novel isn't actually set during the War--and Dickens Christmas Fairs. Eventually at the fairs I got so picky (!) and started to get annoyed at the endless steampunk that has its strong points (romantic and creative) but doesn't really cut it as authentic for any time period whatsoever.

I found myself turning as much as I could to first person accounts from the period to get a feel for the values, manners and language of the time. These narratives had the advantage of not adding an extra filter of someone else's interpretations of the era. I also read some now obscure fiction written in the period, and for fashion devoured every on-line issue of Lady's Godey's Book I could find!

Another interesting aspect for me was the evolving technology of the time. The impact of changing technology (a.k.a. the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution) on the two halves of the country is one of the themes of the novel, and so I delved into all sorts of things from steamers, to telegraphs, to plumbing. The challenge was how to weave it into the story so that readers not particularly interested in technology would still find it entertaining and relevant.


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Books mentioned in this topic

Tierra Red (other topics)
The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction: Researching and Writing Historical Fiction (other topics)
Paper Woman (other topics)
Beaufort 1849, a novel of antebellum South Carolina (other topics)
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Authors mentioned in this topic

Suzanne Adair (other topics)