An efriend writer originally published this as a guest post on their blog to help me launch Against All Odds August 2020. In case you missed it there, here are my anecdotal thoughts on how to add drama to your story:
Historical fiction tells a story based in the past. It requires lots of facts and must wrap readers in the atmosphere of the time. Its popularity often relies on our need to make sense of the tumultuous world around us. In my case, this is absolutely true. I didn’t understand how man thrived in a violent world where he wasn’t king and had no survival tools other than his big brain. The more I dug into the history, the more reasons I uncovered for his prowess. Now, I feel like I understand that anomaly.
That is why I write prehistoric fiction (a sub-genre of historical fiction) but there are other reasons:
- I like to learn from the hills where man planted his flag. The reasons why he drew a line in the stand, refused to cross it seem less about rational choice than relentless passion to stand up for something undefinable inside of him. Sometimes, this choice is as simple as it seems the right thing to do. Rarely does he know what the consequences would be, or care, until s*** happens.
- Writing historical fiction is a lot like grasping at another man’s straws. You weren’t there so you view it through the lens of other people’s experiences and then own it by building a story around it.
- If history were a person, it would be wrapped in an old blanket muttering to itself, asking why you don’t understand it better. But no matter how many questions we ask, we can’t find out enough. Sometimes, through the elements of fiction–characters and plot–we reveal an understanding of past events that would never be gained by reading a history text.
- Historical fiction writers (or prehistoric fiction writers) must be willing to fail. Facts are fungible, often relayed by the victor, through his lens, his experiences. The real truth is often impossible to reveal, layered so completely in opinions, emotions, and time. But that doesn’t stop historical fiction authors. We relentlessly dig, pull one thread after another until the pieces pop into place. Then we can tell the story.
- Historical fiction writers aren’t PhDs in history. We often aren’t even experts in the history we write. But we’re good at researching, connecting the dots. We never quit, never compromise, never fudge the facts in our stories. We always peel back layers to see what is hidden beneath. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, how many books we must read. We continue until we can feel the truth.
Let me use Jean Auel as an example. She’s probably the most well-known prehistoric fiction author in the world. She’s an educated woman but not a paleoanthropologist (anthropology of ancient man) or an expert in the times she wrote about. What she did well was research and tell a compelling story based on the facts she uncovered. That turned out to be good enough for a career writing prehistoric fiction.
If you write historical fiction, what keeps you going?
More about being a writer
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, Summer 2021.