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HISTORICAL FICTION

April 27, 2022

            There are countless genres within the world of fiction. I was a bit surprised to find my first Detach novel, Lusitania Gold fit into that historical fiction category (along with several others). While my intention was never to directly address history of the Lusitania and the era, it became an integral part of the story. Therefore, I had to do it right…well, as right as I could get it.

            Since it’s fiction, what does it mean to be “historical?” How does it fit into the genre?

WHAT IS HISTORICAL FICTION?

            Basically, from my understanding, historical fiction is taking real events and fictionalizing them. That’s basically it. Quite often, the stories deal with past eras while some deal with present-day.

            For instance, a story set during the Civil War and circling around, or directly using a famous battle (thanks Robin).

            That’s historical fiction.

            How about a native American school in the late 19th century (thanks Amanda)?

            Historical fiction.

NOT USUALLY MY THING

            The funny thing is that I’m not usually into historical fiction. It’s not one of my normal genres. I have enjoyed a few here and there, but in my case, the historical parts are usually part of some other genre. Like Lusitania Gold, it’s meant to be an adventure/thriller keyed off of a historical precedent, the sinking of the Lusitania.

            As I like to say, “then mayhem ensues.”

            When I think about many of the thrillers I’ve read, history plays a big part of setting the scene, if not directly stealing from reality.

THE FASCINATION WITH HISTORICAL SETTINGS

            History is supposedly written in stone. However, things are not always what they seem in reality. It depends on who wrote it and their interpretation of the facts.

            Facts.

            Yeah, that can be a loaded word.

            As writers, when we come up with something, and want to use a historical setting, it’s more than likely something we’ve always been fascinated with, even if we don’t normally read much non-fiction. It could be some event that we heard about in school or saw in a movie that sparks that interest.

            Hence, a historical fiction story.

THE BIG WHAT IFS?

            Many times, a historical fiction story has little to do with the actual events. They may just be a background to something else that happened to the hero.

            On the other hand, what if things didn’t happen as depicted in the history books? Altering history for the sake of a good story is a great example of historical fiction.

            I can go back to the old cliché plot, what if Hitler never died? What if he really lived out his life in South America (or wherever). This plot is certainly not new but makes a good example of historical fiction and altering real events to fit the story.

            In that respect, that’s exactly what happens with Lusitania Gold. I took a real event and made my own history.

ACCURACY

            Obviously, the story isn’t real in most cases. After all, your fiction isn’t supposed to be a history lesson. Yet, whether using history as a background or altering real events to devious purposes, there’s still a line that has to be maintained to keep your credibility.

            When writing historical fiction, you need to get the real details accurate, or you risk losing half or more of your audience.

            When someone is attracted to your story (Hitler, Civil War, whatever…), there’s a good chance they know a bit about that time period and details.

            As an author, it’s up to you to research.

RESEARCH

            When writing historical fiction, you need to do your due diligence. You need to get the real facts you use accurate as best as you can.

            When I say best as you can, I mean, anything you use that’s real should be verified for the time period.

            They didn’t use revolvers in medieval times. Duh…

            When the story is based in a real town, you can only stretch the setting so much. Then again, many authors, me included, give a disclaimer up front that we altered certain things for story purposes. That’s fine and dandy unless you go way off. Then again, if you’re up front about severely distorting reality, that’s a pass.

            On the other hand, writing a historical fiction piece set during a time period or an event requires more due diligence to make it credible.

            The little things count. For instance, certain things could not have happened during the events of the story because they weren’t invented yet. Unless the story is science fiction, you have a more rigid line to tow.

FICTION VERSUS REALITY

            Depending on the specific genre, you can get away with certain inaccuracies. If you do, generally, you have to justify them, whatever they are.

            For instance, you’re in a medieval setting in France.

            Your hero has a revolver.

            It might as well be a space laser, given the time period.

            How do you justify it?

            Time travel, for instance.

            On the other hand, your story is set in the Civil War. Your characters actions and technology don’t fit, or is rife with errors.

            It’s hard to excuse sloppy research, especially when you don’t have an excuse up front.

            When someone who knows the era reads your book, they’re likely to not only put it down, but throw it down if it’s way off the mark.

            To do historical fiction right, disregarding altered reality, you need to do the research and keep it as real as possible for the time period.

SUMMARY

            Historical fiction can be a fascinating subject. The idea is to get the environmental, technological, and people details correct for the time period.

            If not, you can lose your audience in a heartbeat.

            Happy writing!

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