I just got back from a course on writing Historical Fiction and I got more out of it that I ever expected. Just basic ideas and thoughts are swimming in my head; I thought I will write through what was talked about with some ideas of writing exercises.
Warming Up Before Writing
This is something I’ve never really done but I can see that doing some exercises to get you into the flow of writing would help. Also if you do exercises that will relate to your story then it will defiantly benefit you later. Although the craft of writing is in the rewrite all these exercises are really to help you write your first draft.
Warm Up Exercises
- Write a descriptive paragraph of a characters favourite food from their childhood
- Write a descriptive paragraph of a characters favourite song from their childhood
There are more things you can write about as well, for any experience, like owning a pet or driving a car. This is to help you understand the character a bit better and get the creative juices flowing. If you struggle try writing from your own perspective first.
Well written stories have well written characters. These Characters need to be complex creatures with fears, desires and struggles. Though you may not write about all these things, it’s important to know everything about the character so you know how they will talk, think and feel in certain situations.
Character Building Exercise
Find a picture of person that maybe a character in your book then work out the following
- Characters Full Name
- What they want most in the world
- What do they fear most in the world
Self editing is often extremely hard and you often miss a lot of mistakes. So here is a list of ideas to help with editing and things to look for when you edit.
- Try putting the story away for a few weeks or a month and not look at it, then come back to it
- When something doesn’t sound right
- Delete It
- Make it on the page and come back to it later
- Re-write it
- Try reading out aloud
- Print out your work
- This way you can see if it too descriptive (too blocky)
- Not descriptive enough (too much unused space)
- Look for consistencies
- If it feels like you are explaining not telling a story (you most likely are)
- Be willing to delete lovely writing if it has no relevance to the story
- Be wary of too many agentives or adverbs.
- If a section isn’t working
- Try writing from a different perspective
- Step out of your work, but stay in character (eg. Write the characters journal or a series of letters to people or even put the character in another situation)
- Don’t be nervous about trashing the whole story and starting again
All books will require some research; it is the foundation of every story.
With any story not just Historical Fiction tries to be accurate with the story; there are plenty of resources out there for this.
- Textbooks (Not just current ones but textbooks written in those days)
- Oral History or Even of Diaries (will give you an idea of slang and informal language)
- Official Records / Newspapers (will give you an idea of the formal language)
- Academics (There is normally a Thesis on any subject)
- Historical Societies (normally have good records and good antidotes about life in a particular time)
- The Internet (Good reference point with a lot of information but not always a reliable source)
- Field Work (Get a sense of the scenery, how things feel, smell, etc)
Remember it’s the little details that often matter the most in a story. Try to cover a range of sources and don’t be afraid to include little snippets of real text into your story (as long as you check copyrights and reference it). There is a fine line to overloading your story with facts, so don’t be intrusive with the facts.
Split a page into two columns; the left side write down all the facts you will need to add (eg. What was the weather like, what did people where, etc) and on the other side write some imagery to go with these facts (eg. If the weather was cold and windy, write something like “the wind was like icy knives stabbing at my skin”)
Timelines & Maps
It’s important to make sure your work is consistent, so sometimes its a good idea to make a timeline of relevant world events and then match them up with your characters timeline to make sure they are consistent. You don’t want to make a reference to something that wasn’t around that era (eg. If you character took a train make sure there were trains in the area in that time)
Also make mud maps of the house, the area and surrounding. This way you will know distances, water crossings, old buildings, etc. You don’t want to fall into a trap of mentioning something and then forgetting about it later on. (eg. If someone took 2 days by horse to get somewhere you don’t want another person arriving in only a day.)
If you are writing about a real place, maybe look at Google maps or Google earth, find some maps from that era, just so you understand the surroundings and what’s happening.
Points to Remember
- Don’t make your novel sound like a series of facts
- Make the characters feel like real flawed people
- Hook into the terminology and language used back then (maybe don’t write in old English because people won’t understand it, but use phrases or worlds that remind people it’s set in old English times)
- Use era appropriate words (eg. Don’t call it a train if it was referred to as a Locomotive back then)
- Be aware of slang or cursing (check to see what was used back then)
- Don’t try to tell the reader life was harder or easier back then, just that it was different
- Leave your own perceptions out of your work
- Remember the day to day lives of your character
- Research names commonly used in that era
- Understand your character and the landscape
- Just Write – you can rewrite and edit later; just try to get all the thoughts on paper before you lose them. Polishing your work can come at anytime.