Essential Tips for Writing Historical Fiction That Shines

By Reed Smith •  Updated: 02/23/24 •  14 min read

Delving into the world of **Tips for Writing Historical Fiction** can transform a good story into an unforgettable journey through time. In this piece, we’re gonna walk you through the art of weaving real-life history with your creative tales, making sure every character pops off the page with genuine vibes and a touch that feels both true to their era and deeply personal. You’ll learn how crucial research is in painting a vivid backdrop for your narrative and why keeping an eye on language and dialogue can make or break the reader’s immersion. By the end, you’ll have actionable strategies for integrating real events without losing your story’s heart, alongside editing insights that keep your prose sharp and engaging.

Table of Contents:

Establishing Historical Accuracy in Fiction

So, you want to bend history without breaking it? Crafting a historical fiction masterpiece means walking the tightrope between fact and creativity. However, don’t be daunted; arming yourself with a handful of strategies will enable you to deftly navigate this balancing act.

Establish Your Own Rules for Bending History

Navigating the realm of historical narratives demands a finesse akin to walking on a tightrope. Authors have varied opinions on how much they should stick to the facts versus letting their imaginations run wild. The key is finding your sweet spot. Think of it as being the architect of your own time machine—where do you draw the line?

To navigate these waters smoothly, start by setting some ground rules for yourself. It’s like deciding whether or not to use real cheese in that lasagna recipe; sometimes, authenticity tastes better but other times creative substitutes make all the difference.

An invaluable resource here is The History Quill’s Guide, which serves up juicy insights on balancing accuracy with storytelling prowess.

The Plausibility Factor

A tale might be set in 16th-century France but if dragons suddenly appear without rhyme or reason (unless you’re penning fantasy), readers will raise eyebrows so high they might take flight. That’s where plausibility comes into play—it’s what keeps those metaphorical feet planted firmly on historical grounds even when taking liberties with events or characters.

Bending history demands finesse; think less sledgehammer more scalpel. If done right, alterations won’t jar readers out of immersion but rather enhance their journey through time.

Creating stories that are true to history is not merely a matter of listing dates and happenings; it involves intricately intertwining them so they resonate with authenticity while also feeling intriguingly novel.

Research Techniques for Historical Fiction Writers

Diving Into Primary and Secondary Sources

So, you’ve decided to write historical fiction. Welcome to the time machine that is your mind. But before we start drafting our epic saga set in ancient Rome or the roaring twenties, let’s talk research. Delving deeply into your subject isn’t merely beneficial; it’s absolutely vital. However, only a smidge of what you discover will actually make it into your book.

To build an authentic backdrop for your story, mixing primary and secondary sources is like making a gourmet meal – both are needed but in the right proportions. Think of primary sources as your main ingredients: diaries, letters, photographs from the era provide unfiltered access to the past. Then sprinkle in secondary sources – books and articles analyzing those periods – for context and flavor.

If diving headfirst into historical documents sounds daunting (or if libraries make you sneeze), fear not. There’s help out there such as The History Quill’s Guide, offering insights on balancing accuracy with creativity.

Mixing fact with fiction? Crafting a narrative that is both authentic to the annals of history and captivating in its tale demands a nuanced equilibrium, akin to an artist blending colors with precision. Real events can significantly enhance storytelling by providing built-in conflict situations or adding depth through real-life consequences of characters’ actions—just remember not all interesting tidbits need inclusion if they don’t serve your narrative.

Remember this mantra: researching historical fiction goes beyond mere dates and facts; it involves immersing oneself fully into another time period’s atmosphere—its social norms, conflicts situation even its cuisine—to breathe life into words on paper effectively turning readers’ imaginations back several centuries at once.

Character Creation in Historical Contexts

Crafting characters who look like they’ve time-traveled from the past into your story isn’t just about slapping on a corset or giving them a sword. Crafting characters that genuinely resonate and challenge the conventions of their time involves a subtler touch than merely equipping them with period attire or weaponry.

Crafting Believable Rebels

Let’s talk rebels—those folks in your historical fiction who dare to zig when society demands they zag. Creating authentic characters who challenge social norms is not just throwing someone modern into an old-timey setting and shouting “Voila.” There’s an art to it. These are individuals shaped by their historical context, yet distinct enough to question it.

To nail this balance, understanding the character development process within its specific time frame is crucial. This means diving deep into what made people tick back then—their beliefs, fears, and hopes—and how these elements conflict with your rebel’s worldview.

Understanding the fine line between challenging conventions and maintaining authenticity hinges on embedding your narrative in a well-researched historical backdrop. For instance, crafting believable rebels involves knowing why they’re rebelling and how such actions align or clash with their period’s values—a tricky dance between accuracy and creativity explored further through The History Quill’s Guide.

The task at hand? Ensure any deviations from history remain plausible to readers because let’s face it: no one wants their immersion broken by a 19th-century protagonist advocating for Wi-Fi rights unless you’re penning steampunk—but even then, tread carefully.

In summing up character creation within historical contexts—remember: research meticulously; craft with care; rebellion needs reason; plausibility keeps readers engaged.

Integrating Fiction with Historical Events

Imagine walking a tightrope between two skyscrapers. That’s akin to blending fact with fiction when you’re writing historical narratives. It requires balance, finesse, and an unerring sense of direction. The challenge is not just about staying true to real events but weaving your fictional tales around them without losing authenticity.

Establish Your Own Rules for Bending History

To start off on the right foot, it’s crucial to establish your own rules for bending history. Think of it as knowing exactly how much spice you can add before ruining the soup. Authors have varying opinions on accuracy, but one thing they agree on is that plausibility is key when altering history.

Crafting stories is akin to painting on a canvas, where the charm emerges from skillfully blending imagination into historical voids instead of distorting truths. For inspiration and guidance on maintaining this delicate balance, The History Quill’s Guide provides invaluable insights into achieving both accuracy and creativity in your storytelling.

The Plausibility Factor

Maintaining plausibility means ensuring any deviations from historical truth are believable within the context of your story. This doesn’t mean every detail needs to be historically accurate; however, it does require that changes or additions don’t jar readers out of their suspension of disbelief.

A well-researched backdrop using primary and secondary sources forms a solid foundation upon which your narrative can confidently stand. Leila Aboulela’s Writing Insights suggest focusing more on enriching stories through detailed world-building than overloading readers with excessive historical data – because let’s face it: no one wants their thrilling read turned into a dry textbook session.

Language and Dialogue Authenticity

Finding the sweet spot between historical language and dialogue authenticity without making your readers feel like they’re deciphering ancient hieroglyphs is akin to walking a tightrope. But fear not, because balancing accuracy with readability is key, and it’s totally doable.

Striking a Balance

To start, consider how people actually spoke during the period you’re writing about. Yes, they might have used “thou” and “thee,” but peppering every sentence with these can send your reader running for the hills—or worse, to another book. It’s about giving flavor without overwhelming; think of it as adding salt to a dish.

Next up: modern sensibilities. We’ve evolved in our understanding of many social norms since ye olden days—thankfully. This means adjusting dialogue that might be historically accurate but could alienate or offend contemporary readers. Our goal here? Keep them engaged while respecting their values.

The trick lies in doing your homework (and lots of it). Dive into primary sources like letters or diaries from the era for authentic snippets of speech that breathe life into characters while still being relatable today. Additionally, explore materials that analyze the language patterns of different eras; they provide helpful understanding without requiring you to wade through outdated writings endlessly.

Incorporating real historical figures? Then accuracy becomes even more crucial since fans love pointing out mistakes on Twitter. Just remember—even when sticking closely to records—a little creative license lets you adapt dialogues for clarity and impact. The History Quill’s Guide can help nail this balance perfectly.

Editing Process Insights

Trimming Down Research

Imagine your historical fiction manuscript as a lavish banquet. You’ve spent months, maybe years, gathering the finest ingredients (read: details and facts) for this feast. But here’s the kicker: not all of it needs to end up on the plate. When editing historical fiction, reducing research visibility is akin to seasoning – too much can overpower the dish.

This doesn’t mean you chuck out all those hard-earned details into the bin. Instead, let them simmer in the background to give depth and authenticity without overwhelming readers with an info-dump omelette.

A peek at Leila Aboulela’s Writing Insights will show you how a pro does it – weaving extensive research seamlessly into narratives that captivate rather than educate.

Finding that balance between fact and fiction is crucial; your story should feel like stepping back in time without needing a history degree to enjoy it. Think of your novel as a museum where visitors come for an experience, not just a lecture.

The bottom line? Keep only what serves your story directly or adds necessary color and texture. This process often involves tough decisions but remember – every detail cut leaves more room for storytelling magic to shine through.

To encapsulate, deep dives into history are the foundation of compelling tales, yet judicious application in editing weaves a narrative that’s both illuminating and captivating—showcasing the artistry of adept composition.

Continuous Learning in Historical Fiction Writing

In the world of historical fiction writing, your research desk is like a time machine that’s always slightly malfunctioning. You think you’ve got all you need to know about the 16th century, but then boom. Suddenly, you stumble upon a fresh piece of evidence or an academic unveils revolutionary insights into the societal customs of the Renaissance era. It’s why continuous learning isn’t just encouraged; it’s essential.

Our ceaseless quest for understanding imbues our stories with depth and allure, making them resonate more profoundly. Think of Leila Aboulela’s River Spirit, where meticulous research blends seamlessly with narrative craft to transport readers across time and space. That level of authenticity doesn’t come from a one-time deep dive into history books—it comes from never stopping the quest for more understanding.

Diving Into Primary and Secondary Sources

To keep your story grounded while letting imagination fly, remember: not all sources wear capes (or dusty jackets). Primary sources give you unfiltered access to the past—think diaries, letters, legal documents—but they can be rare gems hidden in archives’ depths. Secondary sources then become your best friends for context-setting as they interpret primary data through modern lenses.

The trick lies in balancing these insights without making your book feel like a history lesson disguised as fiction (unless that’s what you’re going for). Crafting compelling narratives means weaving facts so tightly with fiction that readers forget which is which—all while staying true to historical accuracy.
The good news? Resources like The History Quill’s Guide are goldmines for writers looking to enhance their skills without feeling overwhelmed by infinite details.

Avoiding Anachronisms for Credibility

Picture this: you’re deep into a novel set in the roaring twenties, completely engrossed, when suddenly a character pulls out an iPhone to snap a selfie. Congratulations. You’ve just been slapped by an anachronism, yanked out of your immersive experience and left wondering if time travel was part of the plot all along.

Diving Into Primary and Secondary Sources

Navigating through time’s maze demands equipping oneself with insights drawn from firsthand accounts and scholarly interpretations to sidestep any temporal discrepancies. Imagine wearing detective goggles as you sift through old newspapers or personal letters (primary sources) while also keeping tabs on scholarly articles that interpret those findings (secondary sources). This dual-wielding research approach is not only fascinating but essential in ensuring your story feels like it’s actually unfolding in 1920 rather than 2024 with flappers using FaceTime.

An excellent resource for honing this skill is The History Quill’s Guide, which dives deep into achieving accuracy and authenticity in historical fiction writing. Remember, extensive research underpins every credible historical narrative; yet paradoxically, showing off less than half of what you know can make your work shine brighter.

Crafting Believable Rebels

Every era has its rebels—those characters who defy social norms—but without context, they might come across as more punk rock than period appropriate. When weaving such personalities into your tapestry of times gone by, let them challenge societal expectations but do so within the realm of possibility for their day. For instance, a woman striving for professional recognition during World War II makes sense; having her lead board meetings via Zoom does not.

To strike this delicate balance between creativity and credibility, referencing works like Leila Aboulela’s Writing Insights can provide valuable perspectives on maintaining believability while crafting compelling narratives around real events or figures—a must-read for anyone venturing into the world of historical fiction writing.

The Gist:

Stay true to the era you’re writing about by doing your homework with primary and secondary sources. Let rebels shine, but keep them period-appropriate. Dive into guides like The History Quill’s for tips on accuracy and Leila Aboulela’s insights for believable storytelling.

FAQs in Relation to Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

What are the 7 elements of historical fiction?

Setting, characters, plot, conflict, theme, point of view, and authentic historical details. Each element must breathe life into the past.

How do you write a good historical fiction story?

Dive deep into research but let your imagination fill in gaps. Blend facts with compelling narratives for a gripping tale.

What are the rules for writing historical fiction?

Honor the truth of the era while crafting engaging stories. Balance accuracy with creativity to keep readers hooked and informed.

What makes a good historical fiction book?

A strong narrative that educates and entertains without sacrificing either for authenticity or intrigue. It’s all about balance.


Mastering Tips for Writing Historical Fiction transforms stories into immersive journeys. Remember, accuracy sets the stage but creativity fills the gaps. Make sure to blend facts with fiction smartly.

Dive deep into research but let only what’s necessary peek through your narrative. Characters should breathe their era yet speak to today’s readers.

Striking dialogue balances keeps language real yet readable. And always cut the clutter in editing, focusing on storytelling that grips and doesn’t let go.

To write historical fiction is to forever learn, weaving past and present into tales that resonate long after the last page turns.

Reed Smith

Reed is the founder and builder of Habit Writing and enjoys all things writing. He loves learning about the craft of storytelling, writing messy drafts, and playing board games with his wife, friends, and family.