4 Rules for the Historical Fiction Road

The other day I read a guest post by Andrew Noakes on Jane Friedman’s blog.  He wrote about writing historical fiction and has some really good tips.  I’m going to expand on one of them and then add three  of my own.

No Hive Mind

I don’t remember how Noakes phrased this but remember when you are writing historical fiction that not everyone thinks the same way about every little thing.  Think about the Revolutionary War.  Should we remain an English colony or become free?  Not everyone agreed on which answer as right and the justifications for their opinions were wide ranging.  No matter what time period you are writing about, don’t have everyone think exactly the same thing.  But if your main character disagrees with her family, know why this might be.

Research Details for Settings and Artifacts 

A lot of authors who are new to historical fiction want to research every little detail.  And you do need to know enough to set your story in the appropriate culture. When I write historical fiction, I use my research to enrich the setting and the various artifacts that surround the character.  What would their school look like?  Does it have artificial lighting?  If so, is it electric?  Gas?  Oil lamps?  This keeps me from trying to research dialogue.

Dialogue Rules

In his post, Noakes wrote about not writing dialogue that sounds like it is from that time period.  When you do this, you produce dialogue that is largely unreadable.  This is especially serious if you write for young readers.  You aren’t transcribing period dialogue.  You want to include just enough to give it the flavor of the time and place.  Do do this, I might use a few phrases or slang like “crazy” or “dolled up.”


When you create a story set in a distant time and place, it can be tricky for readers to identify with your character.  To make this possible, provide a bridge.  Give your character emotions that readers can identify with or put them in a situation that they can empathize with.  Anger, joy, and hope are all identifiable emotions.  Family problems, school worries, and being the new kid at school are familiar situations.

Writing historical fiction isn’t easy but it is popular with readers of all ages.  Why not try to spin a story in your favorite historic period?


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