1. An Introduction to Writing Historical Fiction

Hello everyone. I'm Meredith Allard and I am the executive editor of The Copperfield Review, a journal for readers and writers of historical fiction. Welcome to the introduction to my class, an introduction to writing historical fiction. In this class, we are going to take a look at various elements of writing historical fiction that will make your story stand out from the crowd because when we write historical fiction we want to write stories that engage our readers.

And that's exactly what this course is going to focus on. Now, in my capacity, as the executive editor of The Copperfield Review, I've had the opportunity for the last 20 years to read thousands of submissions of historical short fiction, historical poetry, and historical novels. I also write historical fiction. So what that means is that I've had a chance over the past 20 years to really think about what makes a strong work of historical fiction, which is exactly what we're aiming for when we write historical fiction. So let's go ahead and take a look at what this class is going to cover.

Now this class is intended for both advanced writers of historical fiction as well as new writers of historical fiction. If you're a new writer of historical fiction, you'll find a lot of tips and tricks to get you going from the very germ of an idea all the way through completing your project. And if you are a veteran of writing historical fiction, you'll find a few tips and tricks that will help inspire you and spark your creativity so that maybe you're able to look at writing historical fiction with fresh eyes.

So let’s go ahead and take a look at what the course is going to cover. This is the introduction. So again, thank you for joining me and welcome. We’ll also be talking about what is historical fiction and why should I write it? It's very important for writers of historical fiction or really any story writer to have a sense of what it is that they’re trying to accomplish and their story. Having a specific goal means that we know exactly what we're aiming toward with our story. And it just makes it easier for us to bring that story to life.

We’ll talk about the spark of creativity. Where do our ideas come from, not just the ideas for historical fiction, but how do we work with that idea so that we have an idea that can be covered in the space of a historical novel. We'll talk more about that. Now, one of the most popular questions that I get asked as the executive editor of a literary journal for historical fiction is how do I research? Research is always one of the most asked questions. And so we're going to spend some time in this class discussing research. You’ll notice the first section that we have is Research, do I have to? Between us, the answer is yes, you do have to research historical fiction. Okay. It's the research that sets historical fiction apart from other genres of fiction.

That's not to say that other authors of other genres don't research, of course they do, but in historical fiction, the research provides the backbone to our story. Without that research, we're not able to bring our historical worlds to life. And so we'll take a look at how to research. We'll take a look at what kind of information you need.

If you're an avid reader of historical fiction, and I hope so, or else you wouldn't be here, you'll notice that there are some pieces of information, some types of information that are common throughout most historical stories. We'll take a look at what those are. We'll take a look at where you should aim your focus when you are researching historical fiction and then considering your sources.

You want high-quality information for your research. Think of it this way. Historical fiction writers are world builders just as much as fantasy writers. The difference is that we're writing about worlds that actually existed. But we can't bring those worlds to life unless we have good, solid information to use as the background for our stories. Making sure that we have high-quality information is going to be a big part of making sure that our historical stories are believable.

All right. So the next section is creative inspiration. That also goes along with research. Research is a lot of reading and a lot of note-taking, that is certainly part of it, but research can be fun. I know that sounds crazy, but it's true. So we'll talk about some of the activities that you can do to help make the research process more fun for you because the more you as the author enjoy your time in your historical period, the more your readers will enjoy that time as well.

So next is who are you, know your characters. Character development is just as important in historical fiction as it is in any type of fiction. The next two sections, what did you say, dialogue in historical fiction, and did that word exist then, language in historical fiction, those are both really important in helping to bring your historical story to life. When we're reading submissions at the Copperfield Review, one of the things that happens the most, not always, but we read these stories where we kind of, you know, we don't quite feel like we're immersed in that time period. A lot of times it comes down to the language the story is written in. That comes down to the language and the dialogue. So we'll discuss how to find that balance between being true to the historical period that you're writing about, but also making your work readable to 21st-century readers.

Historical fiction is fiction. Historical fiction follows all the same rules of any well-written fiction. And we'll talk about that in detail. Now, if you're a more advanced historical fiction writer, or even just a more advanced fiction writer, you could certainly skip over that class.

We are not historians. Another question I get asked frequently is how much leeway do I have with the historical information that I share in my story and how much can I change and how much do I need to have that is accurate to the time? We'll talk about that in more detail in that class. That's something that historical fiction writers have to consider a lot because we are basing our work on the historical record, but we're not historians. So we'll discuss that in more detail. And then the conclusion, which is just where we will sum up everything that we've learned from this class.

Now you may notice the link down at the bottom of the page. There is a free companion workbook that goes with this class. I’ll add it to the class so that it is more easily accessible for you. It also goes along with my book, Painting the Past: A Guide for Writing Historical Fiction. When I was writing the book, I kept thinking, wow, this would make a really good class. And then as readers got back to me after they read Painting the Past, a lot of them said, hey, this would make a really great class. So I thought, okay, let's make a class. And so that's why we're here. And I'm very happy to be here with you sharing a bit of what I've learned about writing historical fiction over 20 years.

So the workbook is completely free. You can download it through BookFunnel. It contains all of the activities that we will be doing throughout this course. It also contains the writing prompts that we will see so that you are able to start to think your way through this historical story that you want to tell.

So if you have this historical story inside of you and you are thinking that you want to write it, I hope you see that there will be something in this class that will help you write the story, that will help you tell the tale that you want to tell the way that you want to tell it while having great historical information while staying true to the basics of strong fiction writing.

All right. Thank you for joining me for this introduction. And I am looking forward to seeing you in the next class.

Access the free companion workbook for this course here.