Friday, November 20, 2015

Writing Historical Fiction

I am first a historian (TWRP convention rather than an historian) with a passion for the past. I came across a story that was the foundation for my first novel and a series here at TWRP. The problem was the details were both sketchy and contradictory. Two of my ancestors were murdered in a disagreement over the ownership of slaves. There is a little information in the official record, the court order book, and the first historical account was penned 60 years later from oral tradition. Needless to say, there was much possibility of error. Other accounts contradicted the first.

How to tell the story? I've always been a fan of historical novels. These take several forms such as alternative history (Lee prevails at Gettysburg), a fictional character in real events (the Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser), and getting inside the heads of real people (The Killer Angels). In the case of fiction it is less important to have absolute historical accuracy than to have the story and the scene to be authentic. An author can jigger around events to make the story more manageable (Fraser does this). The important thing is to leave the reader with a good sense of the time and the events and even educate the reader about real personages.

In the case of my first book, Down The River http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/maincatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=191&products_id=6506 I had a list of the known players, only the barest details of events. The rest was all mine. I decided to tell the story of the murders and the times from the point of view of Phyllis (real person) the only eyewitness to the crimes. I needed to learn about the location Eastern Kentucky and its history, the history and legal structure of slavery, and concurrent events (War of 1812) that might influence the characters' actions. Research began in every book at the library, even the Library of Congress, dealing with local history. I even got books on the natural history of the region. I visited Colonial Williamsburg o see how houses were built, how ox carts operated, and what people made and ate.

More to follow
David Wilma