Monday, January 14, 2013

Historical Fiction: I Have an Idea, Now What?

I've lived in both Oregon and Utah. The climates of these two places are as different as can be; one is a lush green (and wet) forest, whereas the other is a rocky, brown desert.  I used to joke that when settlers came to Utah they had to plant trees, whereas when they moved to Oregon, they had to chop them down.

Writing fiction is much like settling in Utah. You start out with nothing and have to build everything - story, characters, setting - from the ground up. 

Writing historical fiction, on the other hand, is like settling in Oregon. You have a mass of facts, events, and names at your disposal and you have to weed out what you want to use and what you don't.

Take Cleopatra's daughter Selene, for example. Michelle Moran's version of Selene's story starts with her parent's deaths and ends with her marriage. Stephanie Dray, on the other hand, extends Selene's story into a series of books. Michelle Moran decided to weed out more information than Stephanie Dray did.

Sometimes when I read about an event, the story forms in my mind instantly. Other times I know I want to use an event, but I have no idea how I want to tell it. This is a problem for me with Voodoo Queen. I know I want it to be about Marie Laveau, but do I want it to start with her grandmother and end with her daughters, do I want the POV to switch between her and her daughter, or her and both daughters, do I want it to be a spiritual fantasy or do I want to focus on the facts...

There are so many possibilities!

When you're ready to get to work on a historical fiction, here's a list of things to decide before you start writing:

Questions to Get You Started

  1. Who's my main character(s)?
  2. What do the history books say about my characters' personalities? Am I going to depict them the way history dictates, or present my own theories?
  3. If there's controversy over the characters or events, what stance will I take?
  4. First person, second person, third person limited, or third person omniscient?
  5. What is the main plot? (It can be hard to focus when so much happens in a person's life. You cannot tell the whole story.)
  6. Which events will I use and which will I not use?
  7. How many characters will I include?
  8. Will the story start with the MC's birth and end with her death, or will I focus on one area of the MC's life?
  9. Will I go heavy on the research, or focus more on the story?
Once you figure all this out, your proverbial forest should be clear enough to prepare you for writing the first draft. 


  1. I could never do fiction, it seems so hard.

    How about following each other? Let me know on my blog!


  2. you got that literary amaze with your writing skills

  3. A lovely analogy, Terilyn, and a really interesting post. With regard to point 9 research is crucial - the part of the iceberg no one's aware of - unless you're the Titanic. ie never let the research hit the reader - but without it the iceberg is, well...nothing.


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