Or maybe it’s just me?
This week, I’m discussing my writing process and how writing historical fiction is different than other genres. So here is my process in 4 steps.
1. My writing process tends to begin with a character. An annoying character. One who talks too much and drowns out all of the other characters in my head. My head, after all, is a place of crowded stories not yet told. I listen for a bit and decide, then and there, whether I should write her or if I should ignore her and water my houseplants. The houseplants do not tend to win.
2. I write from the perspective of the character in freewrite sessions to get a feel for the story and the character’s voice. This isn’t any serious drafting, and hardly any of this ever goes into the final manuscript, but it is great practice for becoming familiar with a character’s origins and a potential story arc.
3. I begin doing research on the time period. I get books from the library, and basically spend months and months and months reading and making sure that I know every aspect about the period I want to write about.
4. Then I construct a plot outline. This can change while writing the book, but I like having an idea of where to direct the story and how to go about approaching the world in the manuscript.
Which leads me to writing historical fiction.
I think one of the important things historical fiction writers need be wary of is anachronisms and historical inaccuracies. If you have them, you need to be clear that they’re deliberate. Because if they aren’t deliberate, then it looks like bad research.
Basically, us historical authors become faced with one very important task above other fiction writers: we have to be experts in our field.
Our books aren’t just about prose, or characters. These are vital aspects yes, but we also have to display a great deal of knowledge about our time period. Our book research is like getting ready to write a dissertation. So we write out our thesis. We check our facts to make sure they’re correct. We are almost completely dependent upon our own resources.
Only unlike a dissertation, we don’t defend it in front of a small group of people. It’s out in the world, and once it’s out, it’s OUT. There’s not much we can do to fix it if we get it wrong, and if we do get it wrong, readers — smart, lovely people that they are — will notice, and they will say something.
So we read our mountains of research books to cover our asses and devour many cups of coffee in the process. Because we have to get it right. Congratulations! We’re now historians!
And total coffee junkies.