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Writing Characters In Children’s Historical Novels, by Kathleen Benner Duble

Okay, you’ve chosen your topic. You know what historical period you are going to write about. You’ve done your research. You are well-read and knowledgeable about the events that were taking place during this era. Now, it’s time to introduce characters to your story.

As with all children’s fiction, it is imperative that kids can relate to your characters while making them memorable. In historical fiction, this is particularly true, as kids tend to think of history as dry and boring. So you really want your characters to ‘pop’ with kids, so that they won’t be put off by the fact that the story is in the past. New stories and new characters are a lot like starting a new school. You learn quickly what everyone looks like and what their names are but it takes a while to really dig into the depths of your fellow classmates. Starting to write with only a minimal amount of information on your character is like taking a drink that’s offered without asking what’s in the cup. You can quickly find yourself with your head spinning and heading off in the wrong direction.

Using character sketches can really help you flesh out your characters before you begin your book and help keep you focused on your characters’ moods and motivations. So ask yourself questions such as:
“What is my character’s favorite food?”
“Do they have a secret they are keeping from others?”
“What is their life’s dream?”
“What do they like to do in their spare time?”
“What do they most fear and why?”
“What annoys them?”
“What are their flaws?”
“What are their strengths?”

By getting to know your characters before you begin, your story will be that much stronger. Your characters will act in a manner that is suited to them, and your narrative will flow smoothly and logically. Character sketches are something you should do whether you are writing historical fiction or not.

However, once your characters and their traits are fully conceived, you will need to work these characters into your historical storyline. This is where writing historical fiction diverges from writing contemporary fiction.

In researching your time period, it is easy to want to throw in every historical event that captured your fancy. Not every historical event is pertinent to your character. You have to make sure it makes sense for that character to have experienced that particular historical incident. Today, it is unlikely that many people would have seen the World Trade Center towers fall in New York City AND experienced the tsunami in Japan. Likewise, people in the past had limited ability to be involved in every historical milestone. They traveled less than we do today. Even today, people can’t do it all.

So even if you love the idea of having your character watch Anne Boleyn’s execution, you had better be sure he or she could have actually witnessed the event. As she was beheaded at the Tower of London and not on Tower Green, a simple farmer would probably not have been present. Do not stretch credibility just to have your character take part in an event you think is interesting. Instead, thin about what your character could have realistically seen and done.

History is exciting and the events that took place can sometimes draw you in.

Be careful to weave your character into your story naturally and logically. Like the weavers of medieval tapestries, your goal is to avoid misplaced stitches and knots, and to create a work of art that is beautifully put together.


Kathleen Benner Duble’s author website:

Kathleen Benner Duble’s bio page


United States (and beyond)


United Kingdom (and beyond)


Australia (and beyond)

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Writing Historical Novels

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