Historical Fiction Writing with Universal Class LESSON 2


ELEMENTS OF HISTORICAL FICTION

Every genre of fiction has its own special elements. The elements of historical fiction are varied. They include characterisation, setting, plot themes, and specific styles and tones.

Characterization

Let’s start with characters.

Your characters may be real people that have lived in the past.

Oftentimes, these people are famous but, of course, they do not have to be. You may do research on someone who lived in the past and shape your story around them in order to give more notice to that character. They may be someone you feel should be noted for deeds accomplished but so far, is a bit overlooked, historically speaking.



A recent novel titled Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin is a good example of this. This is a historical fiction novel that tells the story of the girl who would later become Alice in Lewis Carroll’s, Alice in Wonderland. Additionally, it tells a bit of the story behind Lewis Carroll.

The story is historical fiction because we could never be privy to all of these conversations and thoughts, but for all the research the author did, we have an excellent idea of how things were and what happened.

Another option is to create completely original characters who are not based on anyone who has ever lived. If you do this, in order to make it historical fiction, you must set your characters in a historical period. Choose a specific date or event and then do as much research as you can to bring the story to life.



One thing that happens in historical fiction–that happens in all fiction, is that your characters will change over the course of your novel. The difference here is that this usually occurs because the characters are shaped by their settings.

Setting

The setting of your novel is so very important in historical fiction, almost more so than in any other genre of fiction. It is almost a character in itself. Your characters are shaped by it. Because your story is historical and set in the past, your characters will be defined by it.

It means you must also research the moral constraints of the time period.

What were the social constructs of the day?

What was acceptable and unacceptable in terms of behavior?

As your characters are shaped by this, they will change and grow throughout the story based on these morals, constraints, and patterns of behavior.

It is also important to note that you will set your story in a specific geographical place and time. This will require lots of research. Make sure you know everything you need to know about your chosen place and time, and everything your readers will want and need to know to help them through the story.

We will talk more about research in a later lesson, but be prepared. Know that research is your best friend and the most essential tool when writing for this genre.




Plot Elements

The plot elements in an historical fiction novel can be quite unique, especially when compared to the plots of other genres. For example, the problem or problems in your historical fiction novel will usually be a result of the time and place that the story is occurring.

Another way that your conflicts or problems will be a result of time or place may simply be those moral constraints we talked about before. If you are writing a historical fiction romance novel, the courtship rituals were much different back then and this could be your characters’ problem, or it could be some type of familial censuring, such as an arranged marriage, which is causing the difficulties in your story.

Your research will be a great help in showing the reader this problem and allowing them to understand where your characters are coming from.

You want your readers to read along and really feel as if your story happened, the way readers do in Alice I Have Been. You cannot possibly know everything about the characters or the time period, you want your readers to feel that you do. They should be so swept up in your writing that they never stop to question or contradict a point. This is where a good, solid plot line comes in, as does good, solid research.

Theme

The themes of historical fiction are somewhat similar to the themes of any genre, which mostly is good versus evil. However, in historical fiction, we use the people and events from the past to shed light upon some basic truth about the past.

Style and Tone

The style of an historical fiction novel includes a great deal of detail. You want to use as much accuracy as possible. Your reader must feel like they are there, in the story, in that place and time, if you want to be successful.

Style is a very important element when writing for this genre.

If you were to write an historical fiction novel without giving any thought to the style, it might come out a little, well, odd. Because you live today and you are writing about the past, the language, word choice, vocabulary, etc. might not sound quite right. What you need to do is to come up with a style and a tone that fit with your story.

For an assignment I have to choose one historical figure and characterise them, so off I go! There is an assignment to complete for this lesson for that and then an exam to submit.

I think character is important and setting are the main ones you have to start off with as it sets the tone for the rest of your writing.

I have a novel in the works while I write this, and have written three chapters but I may have to learn to be more verbose and include more dialogue in it as I included in my first assignment in the first blog post series I did for this. I mentioned in my Introduction that I am more descriptive rather than putting lots more dialogue but I believe that you have to have a balance.

This next week I will be working on the rest of the Lesson while working at small goals of assignments and exams for each lesson, so I will post each lesson on the blog!

I hope you enjoy!

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