Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Ingredients of Historical Fiction: Saturday Links

My apologies right off the bat. This first article in my Saturday Links is a little lurid, but it was oh-so-funny to read this decades' old article about writing a historical bodice ripper.
We settled on ''The Barbarian Princess'' and I began constructing a plot. I use the word loosely because not even Aristotle could get a plot out of the fifth century. Besides, I didn't really need one; like the typical sweet savage entry, my novel was a sadomasochistic daisy chain of incidents based on the popular wisdom of the antifeminist hour: ''When in doubt, rape.'' (read more)
Historical fiction author Barbara Kyle had an interview this week over at Mary Tod's blog. I was especially inspired by her writing process which enables her to put out one book a year--it looks like a game plan that would be beneficial for me to imitate in the future.
I spend about three months developing an outline, a detailed document that is eventually about twenty pages and covers just what happens. Research is concurrent with building this outline. For me, the outline is crucial: it’s where all the heavy lifting of creation gets done, the development of the characters and plot. When I teach writers I call this process Storylining, because as writers we can never forget that we’re telling a story. Once I have an outline I spend about seven months writing the first draft, then about two months on the second draft, leaving the last couple of weeks for a polish draft. (read more)
Sam Thomas had a very interesting article about how he transferred from a tenure-track professor at a large university to a secondary teacher at a prep school. The latter provided more of a sense of community and a feeling that what he was doing was really making an impact on his students.
Because my ninth-graders have the basics down, I have the luxury of working with them on more difficult questions: What is the best use of historical evidence? How should they structure their arguments to be more convincing? And I do that knowing that with three or four more years of training, they will arrive at college far better prepared then many of their peers. I go to work knowing that I am making a difference in my students' lives, and that is no small thing. (read more)
And what about the academic research that he kind of misses? He gets to use it in his historical fiction writing. Sam Thomas' first historical thriller, The Midwife's Tale, just came out this month.

One benefit on being a little late to finish this Saturday Links post is that I get to include articles hot off the weekend press. Stephanie Cowell posted a marvelous article today discussing her initial trepidation about fictionalizing history and concern about creating dialogue to put in the mouths of real historical figures--and then sharing her realization that that's the point of writing in this genre.
“But what is historical fiction?” people also ask and I reply, “It’s fiction based on history.” More, it is a dramatic piece and must tell an interesting, hopefully gripping story. To do that it must have a plot and dramatic highlights; it must not be repetitive or meander. Real lives do both. You must trim and shape real life into fictional form. (read more)

2 comments:

  1. This is interesting because it explores what we're about in writing historical fiction. It might be worth saying that I've seen several different definitions of exactly what historical fiction is - from writers! My approach is that it is fiction so it's a story, first and foremost. The history is crucial but still secondary to developing an engrossing tale. The secret to writing dialogue for "real" characters is obviously to research the character but also to step back and try to sum up the essence of the character. You have to get a feel for the character and there is no reason why two historical novelists should not view a real character in different ways. After all, historians using the same primary sources have a tendency to disagree. We should not be in the slightest nervous or defensive about this. We are writing fiction after all.

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    1. Yes! But it is something that I have to remind myself of often. I can get very wrapped up in the historical research and forget that I'm trying to create fictional characters based on historical ones.

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