Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Ongoing Dilemma of Writing Historical Fiction

What's a writer to do?  There are things in history that I never learned in school.  Important things that I believe people should know about.  But they need another way to know, because these things never found their way into the history books; at least not the history books that I studied.  As a writer, I struggle and work hard to show more and tell less.  The dialog and the action show these things happening because they are salient pieces of the story.

Extensive research provides strong validation of events included in my narrative.  Fact checking and cross referencing, I work to be careful not to misappropriate information. (Covered in detail in earlier blog) And even with these extra steps and discipline, as a writer, I still am aware that there are those in the publishing world who will still declare my work as didactic or preachy despite all my efforts to not be neither.  Any historical fiction writers with any advice?  Input welcomed.

I find it interesting (and somewhat amusing) when reading advice from agents and editors about do's and don'ts of fiction. And yet, reading great fiction one often finds many examples of successful books just full of things from the "don't" list.

I was chided by agents for entering a where and when, place and date on my first page.  So I wonder if Ken Follett got the same gaff when he submitted "The Pillars of the Earth"?  And I recently read what a writer should never do at the beginning of a novel. i.e. Have the protagonist introduce themselves by name.  Gee, I guess that if Melville would have left "Call me Ishmael" out, maybe "Moby Dick" would have been a bit more successful.

So, I repeat, What's a writer to do?