Monday, September 3, 2012

Historicals Are Making a Comeback

(Image from the:  Historical Fiction Newsletter)

A couple years ago, Chris Humphreys and Deborah Schneider teamed up to present Writing Sex Scenes.  This year, the dynamic duo of double entendre reunited to present the Historicals are Making a Comeback workshop. 

With today's dire news, why all the interest in the past?

One reason is, TV and film are leading this trend with shows like Deadwood and Hell on Wheels. 

The first bit of advice they gave was not to second guess the market.  Everyone seems to think the vampire sub-genre finally has a steak driven through it's heart, only to have another coven of blood suckers rise from the supposed grave.

When writing an historical novel, the key point to remember is the characters, real and imaginary, don't think of themselves as historical, or antiquated figures.  They are contemporaries of their time.  Just like we feel we're better off than folks living in the 19th--and even early-to-mid 20th Century--most characters in historical novels will feel they're better off than their predecessors.

Historical fiction also has its subgenres, like:

--Epics (big events), or what Chris called "intimate epics," that is, big events seen throught the eyes of a handful of people.
--Biographies, which are about 1 person.
--Young Adult (YA) Historical Fiction
--Historical Romance, which is further subdivided into:
----Regency Era
----Civil War
----Victorian Era

The cut-off point between Historical Romance and Contemporary Romance is the end of World War I, or what contemporaries called "The Great War."

So, why write historical fiction?

What you love to read is what you love to write.  It's also a way of looking at a world that shaped our world.  While writing, keep in mind what influences shaped the characters.

Past societies don't have the same standards of behavior as ours does.  A writer shouldn't worry about "what people think," because the reader will judge the characters not the author.  The reader is a partner in the book.

Most successful novels are about known historical figures, because novelists go further into character study and motivation than historians.  However, the writer must make plausible choices on the facts he chooses to use.

Other tips for writing historicals are:

--Determine the best point of view to tell the story in.
--Avoid jarring anachronisms and slang.
--But you can spice up the narrative with a colloquial word, or two.
--While a writer needs to know the history in order to understand the characters, they should avoid overdoing the research.
--Any scene should be judged by the effect of moving the story forward and keep the reader turning the page. 
--So don't do an info dump.  Instead, stage a scene where a character needs to know a fact.  One method is to create an arguement through dialogue or involve secondary characters.
--Actual facts give a writer structure, but not every factoid needs to be included to move the story forward.

Remember, readers are drawn to characters in action, or better yet, characters in peril.

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