Thursday, January 10, 2008

Why Write Historical Fiction?

Why write historical fiction? I suppose most writers of historical fiction hardly give the question a second thought as they sit down to write. Since historical fiction is probably what they most enjoy reading, historical topics or settings are what naturally come to mind when they pick up the pen. Specific eras or events captivate their imaginations and they decide to explore them in greater detail. Perhaps the biography of a particular person enthralls them and they seek to capture the personality behind the cold facts. Sometimes an object or painting from the past begs for explanation. Often it is a simple “What if?” question that compels an author down the path towards a story.

One thing is certain: writing historical fiction carries with it a set of issues particular to the genre, as does any type of writing. How does one incorporate research into the seamless flow of narrative? How does one respect the sensibilities of the time yet create characters that engage a modern reader? How particular does one need be about the language and colloquialisms one employs? (These topics will provide meat for future discussions!) Sometimes it seems as though it would be so much easier to write stories set in a contemporary setting and be done with the mental hassle.

But then the magic of the past reasserts itself and this writer, at least, finds herself hopelessly caught in the challenge of living in two worlds. {s} Reading the novels of Jean Plaidy as a young teen, I fell in love with France and the sixteenth century and haven’t been unable to shake my obsession yet. For many reasons, that era, despite the hardships of everyday life, speaks to me in a way other times don’t. There’s the picturesque side of it, of course, the clothing and the castles and life at court, but there’s definitely more—the excitement of scholars rediscovering antiquity, the expansion of literacy and the vigor of an educated merchant class, the courage of people willing to die for their faith and ideals. I find as I write about people from the past, I learn a lot about myself and what I’m searching for.

What eras in history speak to you? If you write historical fiction, why did you choose your particular setting? If you’re a reader of historical fiction, do you tend to choose books about a certain era or country? I'd love to hear from you about it!

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