Finding A Unique Angle For A Historical Novel, by Kathleen Benner Duble
Before you begin writing a historical novel, it is important to do research on what has already been published. Check out Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Indie.org. See what books are still in print on the subject and how the topic was addressed.
For me, the most critical question I ask myself before tackling a historical period is: “How can I present this story in a way that is unique?” Even if I am fascinated with the time period, if there are too many books out there covering the same topic and I can’t find an angle on it that is different from what has been done before, I drop the idea.
That said, sometimes I stumble upon a unique way to write about a historical period that has been well covered. A few years back, my father was doing genealogy on our family and discovered I had ancestors from Andover, Massachusetts. In researching further, we discovered that my great-grandmother nine times back was accused of witchcraft and put in the Salem Town Prison at age ten. While many books had been done on the Salem Witch Trials, I had not come across anyone who had approached the subject from the point of view of an accused child. There were dozens of children who were imprisoned. Also, not many people realize that more people were accused in the town of Andover than in Salem itself. Here was a fresh way to present a historical event that had been written about exhaustively, and so I wrote The Sacrifice.
In my newest book, Phantoms in the Snow, I read in a Sports Illustrated article about a group of skiers that were brought together to fight during World War II. They were called Phantoms because they dressed all in white and were almost invisible to the eye when attacking in snowy conditions. At the beginning of the war, they were ridiculed – soldiers on skis? What were we supposed to do with this group of skiers when we were fighting the Germans in the sands of Africa and the Japanese on the water? When the Germans ensconced themselves in the Alps in Italy, it was the Phantoms who climbed those mountains and drove them off. When the Phantoms came back home after the war, they started many of the famous US ski areas of today such as Aspen and Vail. Here again was a new viewpoint from which to approach a subject that has been written about extensively – World War 2. If you find yourself drawn to a time period, begin the research on it, keeping an eye to details in your reading that are unusual or different and might lend themselves to you writing a story that is rare in its perspective. Take note of anything that surprises you, or that you don’t remember learning about studying the time period when you were younger.
As writers, uniqueness is one of the most important components of our work. Not only do we want our story to be fresh but, also, the writing itself must stand out in a way that is singular. As historical novelists, we must dig even deeper, finding a way to give our readers a new perspective on the past that will help them remember and grow in their knowledge of history.
Kathleen Benner Duble’s author website: www.kathleenduble.com
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