Historical fiction. Hmmm. It would seem to be an oxymoron. History is factual. Fiction, on the other hand, is a figment of a writer’s imagination. So how can a piece of writing be both true and imaginary the same time? And what obligation does the writer of historical fiction have to her reader to help the reader sort out the difference?
In his excellent book The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction, James Alexander Thom reminds us that fiction is not the opposite of fact. Rather, fiction means “created by imagination.” I think of historical fiction as a blend of fact and fiction, a genre in which the made up story is driven by historical fact. A good historical novel needs to be, first and foremost, a good story. A good historical novel needs an authentic time, place and people, yet the writer can still be comfortably creative without being incorrect with the historical framework. That’s a lot to ask from a writer.
I’ve been writing and publishing historical fiction for almost 20 years—in both print and audio format. I’ve also been teaching college writing courses for more than 25 years, and for many years I felt like a fraud in the writing classroom. My students and I plodded through textbooks concerned with issues such as point of view, and voice and character development and theme. My students struggled to write according to the prescribed process they were reading about in the chapters that I had, after all, assigned them to read. Then I realized that I myself did not write in the way described in these textbooks, so why was I expecting my students to do so? For example, the textbooks were telling my students to write what you know. But I wasn’t doing that at all—I was writing about what I could find out. Big difference from writing what I know. The textbooks authors were also telling my students to write in a linear way—get an idea, make an outline, draft, revise, proofread. I wasn’t going about it in that way, though. I find writing to be more of a circular thing—and so do many of my writer friends.
This book offers an alternative to the traditional advice given to writers about producing, publishing and promoting a historical novel—or any piece of writing for that matter. Although it is aimed at writers of historical fiction, I hope that this book offers insight to readers of the genre as well.
How can technology help you research and write historical fiction?
Writing anything in the digital age can be a challenge—not because of the computer itself, but because of what it connects us too. Remember, the internet didn’t even exist until 1988. Think about it! There were no such things as wikis or blogs or search engines to connect us to the information we were seeking. There were no social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter to connect us to other folks from whom we might learn. And think about what technology has made possible for writers:
· We can do much of our research without even leaving home, including getting access to primary source material such as letters and diaries and photographs
· We can find and connect to people who have the answers to our questions through blogs, social networks and email
· We have access to resources which help improve our writing at all stages , including mind mapping tools, spelling and grammar checks, and readability tools
· We can publish instantly in electronic, audio, video and/or print formats
· We can promote our work and connect with our readers through blogs, websites and social media
This book features dozens of ideas on how you can use digital tools and resources as you research, write, publish and promote your work of historical fiction—or any other genre in which you write for that matter. Technology tips are interspersed throughout each chapter, and Chapter Nine gives additional digital resources specifically for writers of historical fiction. So let’s get started.
Technology tip: This interesting quiz was designed to show teachers how to use historical fiction in their curriculum, but writers can discover a lot about the genre by taking it as well. Take the quiz at: http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0073378569/student_view0/chapter10/multiple_choice_quiz.html