Recently, I came across a question that surprised me. Someone had asked a blogger which is more important in historical fiction – the facts or the story. The reality is that you need both.
Whether you are writing contemporary fiction, historical fiction, mysteries or fantasy, the story is at the center of it all. Without the story you have no base of action for the characters, you need no setting and the themes have nowhere to play out. You need a strong story with a beginning where the readers meet the characters, the setting and the story problem. You need a middle where the character attempts to solve this story problem. And you need an ending where the story comes to a climax and the character succeeds or fails.
Still there is no doubt about it. In historical fiction, you need fact as well. It is this act that creates the setting including the geographic place complete with scents and sounds as well as the clothing that the characters wear, the food they eat and the tools that they use to solve whatever problem has presented itself in the story.
As is so often the case in writing, the trick is in striking a balance. Too weak a story becomes a problem because you are at risk of your plot and characters becoming vehicles for showing off all the lovely historical facts that you have gathered in conducting your research whether these facts include how to gather wild yeast or dry tobacco.
If, on the other hand, you have a strong story but haven’t done enough historic research or have scrimped on sharing these facts, you story can seem to float in time and space. It needs the anchor that a strong story setting can provide.
Do your research. Plot out your story. Figure out which facts enhance your setting, illustrate your characters and bring the story to life. It may take a try or two to get it right but it is worth the effort when your story pulls readers in.