How I Write Historical Fiction
One of the most common questions I get from my readers is how do I capture an era so accurately? Obviously I have no time machine, so how do I know what life was like in 1943 or in 52 BC?
The simple answer: I immerse.
The definition for immerse is to engage wholly or deeply; to absorb. So I act as a sponge, and soak up the essence of whatever time I’m looking to write about. Sounds easy enough, right?
If you could see my home collection of books, you’d notice that for a fiction writer I have an astonishingly small amount of fiction. Instead, my shelves are filled with reference books: books on pistols, cars, forensic science, cannibals, mortuary science (my latest craze), Roman history, Navajo history, and urban legends, just to name a few subjects.
When I’ve got an idea of what I’m going to write (another technique entirely I should write about) I start immersing myself in that world. Not pointedly looking for tidbits, just casually browsing through material. I’ll read websites dealing with the particular period, or browse photos by image search. I usually buy music from that time period as well if it’s available and not too horrid. (Hence my diverse iTunes library) I embrace the time period. I think about it. I listen to the music from it. I look at clothing made in it. Furniture and automobiles are also another possibility, as well as climate, pollution, sanitary conditions, etc.
So I get crash-educated in a time period. By no means an expert, but not completely ignorant of details about it that would clue the reader into what I envisage.
Next I experiment. I write samples, style sheets, sandbox encounters, etc. I’ll throw new characters in scenarios with tried-and-true old favorites. For however long, I live that era. When I feel like I’m comfortable enough with the new additions to my character roster, I start the story. It might be a lengthy story, or just a quick flash. Regardless of the length, I put effort into knowing my subject and era before I release it out into the world.
The bonus? Once I’m educated on a time period, I can write about it more than once. The biggest benefit of writing a historical piece is the research fun. If you’re a learn-a-holic like me, you’ll agree. Digging through photos and having an excuse to buy music, new books, interviewing people informally, or even just asking the guy down at the filling station relevant questions is such a joy to me.
Do you write historical pieces too? Have any suggestions, questions, or discussion points?
Carrie Clevenger, (also known as Carrie Cleaver) worships Maynard and dreams of cephalopods on trains and other oddities in Austin, Texas. The hub of her evil network can be found at Mindspeak or on Twitter as @shadowsinstone.