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Posts from the ‘US historical novelist’ Category

Month In Review (December 2013)

Writing Historical Novels has reached the end of its final month of articles from the multi-national line-up of novelists for 2013.

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Articles for December 2013

On Form And Medium For Creative Works by Emma Darwin

Traveling To Research For My Historical Novels by William Dietrich

Random Thoughts About Writing Historical Novels by Stephanie Cowell

Using Language Specific To The Setting Of Your Novel by Anne Perry

Developing A Writing Routine by Adrian Goldsworthy

Writing My Historical Novel ‘The Kirilov Star’ by Mary Nichols

How I Became A Bestselling Historical Novelist by Ben Kane

Being A Disciplined Author by Julian Stockwin

Tips For Writing Historical Novels by Paul Dowswell

Writing Profiles For Your Historical Novel Characters by Michael White

Using Catherine The Great’s Memoirs When Researching My Novel ‘The Winter Palace’ by Eva Stachniak

Historical Novels You Shouldn’t Miss by Gary Worthington

On Book Trailers by Kathleen Benner Duble

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‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Teen Novels and Writing Novels in Australia.

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Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

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On Writing Dialogue In Historical Novels, by Kathleen Benner Duble

If you are writing a historical novel that takes place in the 1600s, your character is obviously not going to run into his best friend and say, “Hey! What’s up, dude?” People didn’t talk that way in 1620.

As a writer of historical fiction, you want to be sure that your dialogue, like your setting, is authentic. However, if your audience is young readers, you must keep in mind that it is easy to bog them down in the strangeness of language from centuries ago. Let’s face it: if your characters truly talked the way they would have when your story took place, your young readers might not understand their words.

So how do we, as writers of historical fiction, go about writing dialogue that reflects the period without overwhelming our readers?

While writing the story of The Sacrifice (the story of my great grandmother ‐ nine times back ­‐ who was accused of witchcraft in 1692), I read through all her trial transcripts ­‐ listening to the way people spoke, writing down terminology used in 1692 and immersing myself in the language of the Puritans.

Then I wrote the book with as much of that dialogue as I could shove into the story (my characters were shouting: “Doth thou?” to each other throughout the manuscript). When the book was finished, I put the story away in a drawer and didn’t look at it for a month. When some time had passed and I was finally ready to do revisions, I was amazed at how all that heavy dialogue was slowing the story down. I painstakingly took most of the dialogue back out, making sure that there was still enough left to give my young readers a flavor of how people spoke back then while not burdening them with too much Puritan vocabulary.

Date-specific language is not the only way you can set the tone of an historical period. Is your character an immigrant to the US during the 1920s? You can add a flavor of their accent to your story. Is your character a snob? Add an upper crust inflection to their speech.

In my book Hearts of Iron, about an iron-producing town that existed on a mountain back in the 1820s, there were educated and uneducated people inhabiting the settlement. Dialogue became a means through which I could emphasize the difference between the two classes of people living on that mountain. Readers were quickly aware if someone worked the iron furnace or if they provided the more educated peripheral services the town needed, such as a teacher or a shopkeeper.

One word of caution: Be careful of using unwieldy spellings to reflect your character’s dialogue. Using “ain’t” as a way of showing that your character is uneducated is fine, but avoid using a word like “sumpthin”. The phonetic spelling may be accurate in the way your character would have spoken, but it will make your reader pause and slow down your story.

So while dialogue is a great way to flavor your historical piece, use it sparingly and in a way that makes the story continue to flow smoothly.

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Kathleen Benner Duble’s author website: www.kathleenduble.com

Kathleen Benner Duble’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The SacrificeQuest     Powder Monkey: Adventures of a Young SailorThe Tenth GiftFortress of Spears (Empire)

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

On Receiving Feedback As An Aspiring Novelist, by Gary Worthington

The best thing that happened to me at the beginning of my writing career was being asked to join a local writer’s group. I was lucky in that I was asked to join at just the right stage when I had been writing seriously for a short time and that the group was a good one.

I doubt anyone has the ability to write first or even second drafts of stories that are so perfect they can’t be made better. Usually there are numerous possibilities for improvement, especially if the writer is a beginner. I can’t emphasize enough that you need unbiased, constructive feedback from people who are knowledgeable enough to tell you exactly what’s wrong and give you suggestions on how to improve it.

My wife, who is an English literature teacher, typically reads my initial drafts and provides detailed comments. I’m lucky to have this type of “in-house” help. For most writers it’s not a good idea to have your relatives provide your editorial help. They’re likely biased in that they don’t want to say anything that might hurt your feelings, and even if they read a lot of books, they probably won’t be able to tell you precisely what you need to do to make improvements.

It’s best to join a good writers’ group, either in person or online. It’s crucial that the participants be supportive of each other, and that their critiques be well meant. I’ve heard of groups where the members were competitive with each other and some of the comments tended to be devastating put-downs. You want people who are not only knowledgeable about the basics of writing, but who also genuinely care about each other and sincerely try to be helpful.

At the time I started writing historical fiction, online groups weren’t yet available. Our own group rotated the venue among the members’ homes, usually meeting weekly. Some of the authors wrote fiction and some wrote nonfiction. We took turns reading our current work aloud. When a person finished reading, the others would offer comments and suggestions on the piece.

There were usually anywhere from three to six people at a session, though four was the typical number. The membership changed somewhat over the years, largely because one of the permanent members was an English literature professor who occasionally invited one or two of his more promising students to join us. All of the participants had enough knowledge of the craft of writing to offer constructive suggestions on the others’ work. Almost all, within a few years at the most, found outside publishers for their books, at least one received a significant literary award,and another was later published regularly in the New Yorker.

I was privileged not only to benefit from long term constructive feedback from these talented writers, but I was also fortunate in finding good people to read and comment on my completed manuscripts. Since my novels are set in India it was important to have my work read by people from that country so they could point out any errors in background details, any flaws in my understanding of the culture or any inappropriate depictions of how Indians would be likely to act the situations in my scenes. For each of my books I was able to find willing volunteer readers who had grown up in India and who were highly literate in English and therefore able to provide the useful critiques I needed. I’ve also had friends who were glad to proofread sections of the manuscripts to spot typographical and obvious grammatical errors.

Of course, it’s also possible to hire freelance editorial help. If you aren’t able to find suitable volunteers, then if at all possible you should pay for such a service, after checking references from others the editor has helped, to ensure you’ll get your money’s worth in the type of critique you need.

The main point is that it’s an absolute necessity to obtain good quality editorial assistance in some form before offering your work to the wider public. No exceptions.

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Gary Worthington’s author website: www.garyworthington.com

Gary Worthington’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

     The Kirilov StarThe Kennedy ConspiracyPowder Monkey: Adventures of a Young Sailor

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

Researching To Write A Historical Novel, by William Dietrich

Start with history, add your five senses, and conclude with heart and mind.

That’s my formula for researching to write a historical novel; a genre that requires a combination of accuracy and inventiveness. In the case of my Ethan Gage novels, I have a fictional American interacting amusingly with famous real people but I have to make it convincing.

The Ethan Gage novels move sequentially in real time, meaning that unlike a James Bond or Sherlock Holmes tale, we know what year it is. Ethan’s adventures are tied to the events of the day.

My first step, then, is to read general histories of the period and create a timeline for, say, 1803. What was happening, and where?

A decision is then made to send my hero on an adventure in a particular place. That means more reading of what was going on during that particular episode, plus biographies of people Ethan might meet there.

Some of this history, while impressively researched, is dull as told. I read boring books so you won’t have to. I take notes off the books of lively incidents, curious personalities, witty quotes, and colorful locales so only the ripest fruit can go into my novels.

From this I work up an outline. Since Ethan must plausibly affect history while remaining an outsider, and because I need a dramatic conclusion, I must map out the story to make he sure he can get from Point A to Point B by the recorded date in history.

I can invent, but only in the context of a real world with real events.

The research will continue as long as I am writing the novel. Answering new questions as the story progresses can be as simple as looking things up on Wikipedia to tracking down reprints of memoirs written centuries ago.

I try to travel to the places I write about. Museums, castles, forts and churches can be tremendously useful, as are photographs taken of the locale.

I’m also trying to find out how things look, sound, smell, taste and feel. Historical re-enactors can show me what a musket sounds like, kicks like, and how much gun smoke it generates. I can watch smiths, craftsmen, eat period foods, and study clothes. I’m reminded how big a horse is, and how smoky a hearth smells. Novel writing requires visualization, so I’m building a movie in my head.

Historical novels don’t require a ‘message’ but the biggest problem in writing a book is deciding what it’s about.

That’s where the heart and mind comes in. Part of researching is plumbing oneself. What would a key character desire? What would they feel in a historical situation? What would their actions mean about how we live our lives?

That’s what gives a novel depth. By thinking about a book so long, you begin to discern its meaning. You create a world that seems almost tangible.

Then, by the end, you’ve read enough to map out where the hero goes next.

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William Dietrich’s author website: www.williamdietrich.com

William Dietrich’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The Barbary Pirates: An Ethan Gage AdventureBlood of the ReichHadrian's Wall: A NovelNapoleon's Pyramids (Ethan Gage Adventure)     The Silver Eagle: (The Forgotten Legion Chronicles No. 2) (Forgotten Legion Chronicles)Auslander

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

My Daily Writing Habits, by Stephanie Cowell

For many years of my writing life I worked a day job, as so many of us do. I had a great deal of energy then, and used to go to sleep before 11pm and wake up at 6am to write for a few hours before going into my office job. I also wrote on office downtime and sometimes stayed late at the office to write. I only had a typewriter (I was a single mom and computers were a luxury) so I used to type at home and retype to the computer.

I went to the library for research during lunch. I had very empathetic work colleagues, so lunch stretched a long time. I read research materials on the subway going to work and sometimes walking across the long New York City midtown blocks. I was so desperate to write. I lived in the worlds I wrote. I edited printouts while walking.

There is a marvellous small book called Writer with a Day Job that I heartily recommend.

When I finally quit my day job, life seemed incredibly luxurious. It took me at least a year to begin to live at a normal speed.  My pattern is to get up around 8am and work for 4-6 hours, depending on my work-in-progress.

People ask me about when I research. I have a general familiarity with the period and place where my novel is set when I begin, so some of my research is already done. I knew the Elizabethan period very well when I wrote my first novel Nicholas Cooke but I researched along the way. I knew something about the work of the impressionists when I started Claude and Camille and a little about Monet but I had some familiarity with his water lily paintings. About 75 research books later, and after a few trips to Paris and Giverny, many museum visits in American and Europe, and two or three years of studying French, I knew a great deal. All this research occurred during the time of the writing, so I was discovering it as the same time I was writing the book. I’d read about a certain street or garden and say, “I could have him walk there!” I found his life situations in my research.

I rewrite a lot. I can write a scene forty times and throw it away, or keep one sentence and use it in another place in the book.  At some point in the book I put my history books away and just write. I hope by then I am fully inhabiting the spirit of the characters and the world. I have several unfinished novels.

When writing goes well, I stay off Facebook; when it’s lagging, I’m checking it.

In a way I miss my day job. It’s nice to talk to real people in the day.

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Stephanie Cowell’s author website: www.stephaniecowell.com

Stephanie Cowell’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet     Garden of VenusEquinoxThe Tenth Gift

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

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.

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Kathleen Benner Duble’s author website: www.kathleenduble.com

Kathleen Benner Duble’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The SacrificeQuest     AuslanderEquinoxThe Girl on the Beach

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

Life As A Novelist, by William Dietrich

Here’s my Hollywood version of what a novelist’s life should be.

Limousine delivery to the bookstore, after first class travel.

A window dominated completely by one’s books.

Crowded readings and long lines at signings. If a woman, the men want to marry you. If a man, the women want to sleep with you.

Riches. Fame, but only enough to get a good seat at a restaurant, not to be harassed by strangers. A house in the south of France. Long afternoons of wine drinking in the garden with witty literary companions.

The tedium of actual writing? On the cutting room floor of this film.

Bad reviews? Empty readings? Nay, you’re a genius.

Reality, of course, doesn’t match fantasy. I love the independence of the writing life, but the actual work is often seven days a week of solitary confinement in front of a big blank screen. The secret to writing? Long hours of seat time.

Damn.

Fame? Try reality TV. Fortune? To only a favored few. Happiness? I read John Sutherland’s excellent Lives of the Novelists and was struck by what a miserable, suicidal, alcoholic and penurious lot the literarily famous were.

So why do it? We humans have a natural instinct to express ourselves, which you can see in every toddler’s determination to speak. Writing is a way to explore oneself. It’s at least a try at literary immortality. It can free one from the conventional workplace and imperious bosses. There’s at least the chance of hitting the bestseller jackpot, while regular jobs promise a raise of a few percentage points. It’s a lottery ticket.

Today’s writer is by necessity a small business person. There’s a budget, taxes, a strategic plan and self-promotion in the form of blogs, tweets, readings, talks and teaching. Oh, and your friends will call you ‘retired’.

Few authors have a big success with their first book. To create and sustain any kind of career, you typically need to write many. Words by the million! Best not to think about that.

While self-publishing has confused the options, the usual path is to write and write, attend conferences, take classes and ultimately pitch to an agent who takes you on. Then comes a contract, you hope, with some portion of the promised advance up front upon signing.

Your new best friend, an editor, is as smitten as you are, but tells you a shocking thing. The manuscript you’ve labored on in secret these many years not only is not perfect but perhaps doesn’t work at all. Rewrite time!

The exquisite descriptions of my first novel? Slows the story, I was told. My plot? Doesn’t work.

It typically takes a year to publication, which can be an anticlimax. Don’t believe your best and worst reviews, and don’t be surprised when there are almost no reviews at all. Can’t get a waiter’s attention? Chances are you won’t get the literary community’s either, unless you’re a prodigy or connected.

The publicist may send you out on a modest schedule of local readings to which few show up. The royalty statement may be embarrassing. The message you so wisely delivered in your masterpiece may be missed.

So what. You write another book, and another. You can’t help yourself, you’re an author! You know you have something to say and an entertaining way of saying it. You have faith that readers will discover you.

Here’s the miracle. They will.

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William Dietrich’s author website: www.williamdietrich.com

William Dietrich’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The Barbary Pirates: An Ethan Gage AdventureBlood of the ReichHadrian's Wall: A NovelThe Dakota Cipher: An Ethan Gage Adventure     Wounds of Honour: v. 1 (Empire)A Secret AlchemyBeat the Drums Slowly

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

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