One Writer’s Journey

August 6, 2015

Historic Fiction or Should I Say Prehistoric

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:45 am
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cliff birdThe Flight of the Cliff Bird CoverLike most writers, I’m an avid reader.  Because I write for children and teens, many of the books in my to-be-read pile cater to that audience.  I’m always amazed at how often themes appear in the pile.  Recently the top two books were both historic fiction dealing with two different prehistoric cultures.

Writing historic fiction so that it sounds historic can be tricky. You have to avoid words that are too modern.  This means that an Inca warrior won’t think something is cool, isn’t likely to interface with his peers, and it will stick out if he compares his dinner to BBQ.  Yeah, I know.  It sounds obvious yet I’ve seen these kinds of mistakes in both manuscripts and published stories.

When writing historic fiction, most writers default to a slightly formal style. It makes sense because anything too chatty tends to sound modern and campy.  But you have to be careful going the formal route because it is easy to over-write and come off sounding stiff and overdone and even, dare I say it?, strange.

One of the books that I recently read included a conversation, one side of which was being carried out by a small child. Think preschool.  There was just something about it that didn’t sound remotely preschool.  Now, I know that a preschooler in medieval times is going to be significantly less sheltered than a contemporary preschooler.  Heck, my best friend’s great grandfather ran errands between his parent’s farm and his grandparent’s farm when he was only three years old.  But this didn’t sound like anything like a child.  It sounds like a very formal old woman.  Everything was just so . . . whatever.  Hunger was hungrier.  Dust was dustier and it was all just so immense. When I was a kid we would have called this overblown James Fenimore Cooper writing.  We got that from my dad who apparently had a thing against Cooper.  Suffice it to say that it was all terribly overdone — purple prose.

Then I picked up Leslie J. Wyatt’s Cliff Bird.  Leslie’s main character, Cliff Bird, is about thirteen.  First things first, good call.  It is going to be much easier to write for a tween audience from the perspective of a 13-year-old.  Her style is just a little formal and although Cliff Bird speaks to both the eagle that lives in the plaza of her pueblo but also the spirits, it never feels hoaky or strange.  In this case, it works completely.

Writing is all about balance and getting the tone right in historic fiction is tricky.  A little formal works.  Too casual sounds goofy and too formal is just as wrong.  Until you find your own sense of balance, study writers like Wyatt who get it right.




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