AMERICAN HISTORICAL NOVELS discussion

Time and Regret
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WHAT DO READERS WANT?

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M.K. | 42 comments On my blog – A Writer of History – I’ve spent a lot of time looking under the covers of historical fiction to illuminate those attributes that make it different from contemporary fiction. To do so, I explored seven elements of writing a novel: setting, characters, dialogue, world building, conflict, plot and theme.

From 2012 to 2018, I conducted five reader surveys. When asked what ingredients create a favourite historical novel, 86% of readers said ‘feeling immersed in time and place’, but readers also want ‘authentic and educational’ stories, a ‘dramatic arc of historical events’ and ‘characters both heroic and human’. When asked why they read historical fiction, 76% said ‘to bring the past to life’.

Readers love historical fiction, but become annoyed when authors play around with historical events. When asked ‘what detracts from your enjoyment of historical fiction’, a large portion of readers cited historical inaccuracies while others mentioned too much historical detail, cumbersome dialogue, and characters with modern sensibilities.

What do you think? What aspects of setting, character, dialogue, world building, conflict, theme and plot make a book memorable for you?


message 2: by Martha (new)

Martha Conway | 255 comments Mod
Thanks for this, M.K.—so interesting! I know that I read to feel immersed in a time and place, and I write to bring a time and place to life.

One of the hardest things about writing historical fiction, I've found, is that sometimes research reveals that "common knowledge" about an event or a culture is wrong. Or is being questioned. The trick is to write about that without readers proclaiming "historical inaccuracies."

What makes a book memorable for me is the writing and the characters.

Martha


message 3: by Dyana (new)

Dyana | 187 comments I want to have the feeling that I’m living in that era - to know what it’s like living in that time period.


message 4: by Deyanne (new)

Deyanne | 3 comments I want a book that is as historically accurate as possible. Of course I recognize that the character development, dialogue, etc. is fabricated; however, I appreciate a novel when the facts are kept as close to the truth as possible. Good writing is important to me as well and strong character development.


message 5: by Rebecca, Champagne Widows, 2021 (new)

Rebecca Rosenberg (rebeccarosenberg) | 270 comments Mod
I think historically accurate is really important, and to echo what Martha said, "the truth" is interpreted so many ways by historians! I am currently writing CHAMPAGNE WIDOWS, and Napoleon was a regular visitor at the (Veuve) Clicquot home. Accounts of Napoleon vary greatly. A challenge!


message 6: by Deyanne (new)

Deyanne | 3 comments I truly understand and get what you are saying. Interpretation will always play a part and an author will have a bias. However, I want facts kept as true as possible. The number of children, the battles, the conflicts, etc. I always appreciate reputable research.


message 7: by Rebecca, Champagne Widows, 2021 (new)

Rebecca Rosenberg (rebeccarosenberg) | 270 comments Mod
Absolutely! That's the whole reason for historical fiction! Thanks for weighing in, Deyanne!


message 8: by Terry (new)

Terry Collins | 27 comments This is good information! Thanks for sharing it. I just don't know many people who read historical fiction. In any kind of fiction I like good character development and engaging dialogue. I also like subtlety. I don't tend to like too clear of an attempt to persuade the reader of some injustice, like portraying all white settlers as bigots and all natives as noble savages.


message 9: by Smbergin (new)

Smbergin | 6 comments I feel like a story is more authentic when the author uses unique terms or phrases from the era, and describes the food, drinks, and fashion of the time.


message 10: by M.K. (new) - rated it 5 stars

M.K. | 42 comments Martha wrote: "Thanks for this, M.K.—so interesting! I know that I read to feel immersed in a time and place, and I write to bring a time and place to life.

One of the hardest things about writing historical fi..."


Thanks for sharing your experience, Martha


message 11: by M.K. (new) - rated it 5 stars

M.K. | 42 comments Dyana wrote: "I want to have the feeling that I’m living in that era - to know what it’s like living in that time period."

Oh so true! And as someone said to me it's the little details that create that feeling.


message 12: by M.K. (new) - rated it 5 stars

M.K. | 42 comments Deyanne wrote: "I want a book that is as historically accurate as possible. Of course I recognize that the character development, dialogue, etc. is fabricated; however, I appreciate a novel when the facts are kept..."

Dialogue can be tricky ... too much historical accuracy to the language and readers are weighed down/slowed down in their reading, too little and readers feel that the period is contemporary. What fun to navigate the fine line required!!


message 13: by M.K. (new) - rated it 5 stars

M.K. | 42 comments Rebecca wrote: "I think historically accurate is really important, and to echo what Martha said, "the truth" is interpreted so many ways by historians! I am currently writing CHAMPAGNE WIDOWS, and Napoleon was a r..."

You can never be as expert as an expert!! Thanks for your comment Rebecca.


message 14: by M.K. (new) - rated it 5 stars

M.K. | 42 comments Deyanne wrote: "I truly understand and get what you are saying. Interpretation will always play a part and an author will have a bias. However, I want facts kept as true as possible. The number of children, the ba..."

There are times when I crawl down the rabbit hole of research for hours just to verify one little fact!!


message 15: by M.K. (new) - rated it 5 stars

M.K. | 42 comments Terry wrote: "This is good information! Thanks for sharing it. I just don't know many people who read historical fiction. In any kind of fiction I like good character development and engaging dialogue. I also li..."

I think I'll put the word subtlety on my bulletin board, Terry!! An excellent reminder.


message 16: by M.K. (new) - rated it 5 stars

M.K. | 42 comments Smbergin wrote: "I feel like a story is more authentic when the author uses unique terms or phrases from the era, and describes the food, drinks, and fashion of the time."

I hadn't thought about drinks as something that signals time. What a great suggestion.


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