Thoughts on Writing Historical Fiction

I’m now a few weeks into writing Shield of Fire (my historical fiction novel about the Persian Wars) and my progress has been very slow- only got to chapter 2? I thought I’d talk a bit about how I’m doing with writing historical fiction.

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Sneak peak: my planning notebook! 😉

Firstly, I want to write this post because of the highly important reason that it provides me with an excuse for why my writing is so slow and us writers want nothing less than being able to write lazily and still have people go “IT’S OKAY WE UNDERSTAND IT’S HARD”.

Just kidding. That’s not the main purpose of this post, although I do admit that I have been lazy with my historical fiction writing lately. Another reason is I don’t have a lot of time to write, but then, I never have a lot of time to write anyway, unless it’s term break. This is largely due to my writing schedule, which is rather demanding…but let’s not discuss that here since 1) it’s boring 2) THERE IS NO REASON YOU NEED TO KNOW. *gives evil laugh*. (As if anyone asked to see my writing schedule).

Anyway, onto the post. When you choose to write historical fiction, you can choose to either be a good half-historian-half-writer or a crappy half-historian-half-writer. You could choose to write perfect prose but get the facts all wrong, write with stunning historical accuracy but produce crappy writing or you could try to aim for both. I’m aiming for both. (No, not crappy historical accuracy and crappy writing, I meant both good writing and good accuracy). And in here lies the problem: just choosing to write well takes an awful amount of time. Choosing to research well too just adds up on it.

You see, if I chose to ignore the historical facts and just make a lot of the things up, I could actually write at pretty much the same pace

(Image Source)

as anything else. However, I’m choosing to play the role of a good historian too, so I actually want accurate facts to support my descriptions in the novel. This means that I’m busy double-checking every damned thing, from what kind of food Athenians eat to how the Spartan kings lived. My main strategy for writing used to be writing before school starts, which means about ten to twenty minutes of writing daily, but because there’s no internet in front of the school, I find myself becoming stuck (doing research on mobile isn’t the ideal way of doing it, because 3G here in Thailand is crappy).  There’s also the actual planning of the chapter. When I was writing another novel (say, Revolution), I could sometimes write without fully planning out a chapter. Now, however, I have to write outlines for each chapter, so that I know what I have to research about and so that I remember the history that needs to be in it.

But it isn’t like historical fiction doesn’t have its good side. (If it doesn’t then I wouldn’t be writing it, after all). The first reason I like writing historical fiction is that it’s harder to get writer’s block and go “uh i dunt know what i should put in the next chapter”, because history has already happened and you know what will happen next. If you really need to know, open a history book and you’ll find out.

Another fun and rather creative part in writing historical fiction is making up the details. I call it ‘taking liberties’ with the historical facts. There are always lose ends and stuff that aren’t so important that you could change in history. You change them for plot reasons and these new, changed details can be very significant to the plot. This is another reason why I am taking so long to write each chapter: I have to decide which facts I want to change, and what new stuff I want to add. No, Themistocles the Athenian admiral did not have very able sons, but I want one of them to be able because I want him to be a significant character in the plot. That sort of thing.

Anyway, these are the different stuff I’m facing with historical fiction. I hope it allows you to understand a bit more about why I’m taking so long to write. Let’s hope that I can pull through and write a good novel.

Thanks for reading.

-Ken

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