A Forray Into Historical Fiction

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with historical fiction. I love to read it and hate to write it.

The first serious attempt was at the age of ten or eleven when I decided to write the next great American Girls series. It would all be about an Italian immigrant and her family as they seek a new home via the Oregon Trail. Over a year or two, I learned everything I could about the time: watched every History Channel show, wore lace up ankle boots everywhere I went, and played the Oregon Trail game millions of times over (though I only made it to Oregon occasionally because my parties always had a special weakness for cholera… and apparently, so did I).

After that, I ditched historical fiction (outside of the occasional school assignment) for creating worlds of my own. How much easier it is to build a foundation of knowledge–which, in my case, was all about the Middle Ages–and then pick and choose information to form imaginary worlds that follow my rules.

However, that has recently changed. Enter the new pet project short story. Born out of the desire to understand a notorious¬†historical antagonist, I’ve played with the idea for almost two years. Over the past month, though, I have dedicated a great deal of time (yes, most of my writing time) to studying. And, while historical fiction is still a daunting task, I’ve learned that it’s not as bad as I dreaded it could be.

I always enjoyed studying history, and focusing the research to one time period, one situation, one person takes history from a broad topic that seems so hard to understand to just another case of understanding another author’s world enough to write about it. In the next week or so, the foundation of knowledge that I’ve accumulated will begin transforming into words that tell a story that I don’t think anyone else has told (at least from this perspective) before.

And yes, I promise to tell you what it’s about eventually. And, hopefully, I’ll also be able to tell you where you can read the whole thing too. ; )

Have you ever written historical fiction? What genre do you dread?

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8 responses to “A Forray Into Historical Fiction

  • laurastanfill

    This sounds like an amazing project, Bryna! I’m a year and a half into my first historical novel. It was terrifying at first. I never really meant this as a novel. It was backstory for my present day idea, and the the historical part took over.

    I’m interviewing a bestselling historical author on my blog sometime in the next few months, likely in August when his next book comes out. One of my questions is going to be about doing research and making historical time periods seem real. I’ll try to remember to let you know when it’s up!

    • Bryna

      The backstory must be incredible if it’s managed to take over the novel so much. Sounds like an exciting undertaking!

      Thanks for the heads up. I’ll be watching for the interview. : )

      • laurastanfill

        I discovered a certain kind of music box as part of my research, and then got thinking about who would have made such a thing, and ta da, I have a story about a 19th century fainting pimp. (He’s from a music box family and travels to America to save the business, but ends up becoming indebted to a brothel madam…) Funny how one thing leads to something totally unexpected!

      • Bryna

        Ha, ha! Just goes to show you never know where a great story idea will pop up! : )

  • C.B. Wentworth

    My history teacher background makes historical fiction almost impossible for me to enjoy on a leisure level. Instead of paying attention to the story, my mind is racing with historian theoretical thinking. I’ll nitpick the details or feel the need to research for further information. Ahhhh, that’s what happens when history is your job! :-)

    • Bryna

      You would be the coolest person to read historical fiction with. Seeing the historical theoretical angle would just add a whole new level of appreciation for what is happening in the story. And I’m sure it’d beat most literature theory any day. : )

  • A Wannabe Writer

    I’m glad that you wrote this post about historical fiction. I haven’t thought about the genre for a while, but in the past I had several ideas about retelling certain events from a secondary (or even a very minor) character’s point of view which seems to be the approach you are taking as well.

    I do admit it is quite daunting however, and it probably requires very good research. And an interesting question is where do you draw the line between fiction and historical truth?

    I agree with you. For the purposes of fiction, it is easier to limit the story to one situation / person (although someone like Neal Stephenson has been much more ambitious with the Baroque Cycle). From a storytelling point of view, there is then probably not so many differences between history and fiction.

    I am quite curious what your idea is. Keep us updated! :)

    • Bryna

      That is the approach I’m taking as well. Like you, it’s an angle that’s always interested me. After all, there’s always more than one way to look at a story, especially a familiar one. :)

      Finding the balance between fiction and historical truth is hard. There is very little information available on the person I chose, so understanding his motives, his perspective, and even his background all comes down to conjecture. Enough conjecture that I really feel the need to have some sort of disclaimer for readers.

      I’ll definitely keep you updated! And let me know if you ever decide to venture into it as well. :)

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