6 Principles for Writing Historical Fiction | Jane Friedman

Research is one of the very first steps on your journey to becoming a historical fiction author. Here’s a safety warning: you’re about to dive down a whole load of research rabbit holes. From ancient cutlery to medieval agricultural techniques, there is a lot of stuff historical fiction writers need to know about. Secondary sources are your starting point, but primary sources, particularly letters, newspaper reports, and diaries are also vital.

Don’t be afraid to push the boat out and visit some archives, and, for that matter, do go and visit historical sites relevant to your story if you can. If you want to get really immersed, you can read the fiction of your period, cook the food, or even try and find authentic recreations (or possibly recordings, depending on the era) of the music.

Here’s the thing, though: you’re going to do all of this research, and then you need to discard 95 percent of it. Don’t actually delete your notes, obviously. What I mean is, only a very small fraction of your research should actually make it into your book. The sum total of your research will make the world you create feel real and authentic, and you need to deploy little details carefully and selectively to immerse the reader, but don’t be tempted to show off and dump everything you’ve learned onto the page. Otherwise you’ll end up with a dry tome of a history book, not an engaging historical novel.

via 6 Principles for Writing Historical Fiction | Jane Friedman

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