Rules for Writing Historical Fiction

Ray Sobrino’s Esther and the Revolution is a historical fiction book about Esther, a young woman from a tiny town in central Mexico who is trying to escape a war-torn nation in pursuit of safety and happiness. It emphasizes the rich history of Mexico and makes mention of major historical figures who shaped it. Belonging to a Mexican heritage, Ray Sobrino intended for Esther and the Revolution to be an educational but fun book.

Aside from Esther and the Revolution, there are plenty of other historical fiction books out there. Historical fiction, in essence, is a literary genre containing plots that take place in settings located in the past. It combines elements of both fact and fiction. Writing historical fiction can be arduous and daunting. You do not only need to be creative in narrating your story, but you also have to be precise or accurate when it comes to the historical details or elements that you use.

Nonetheless, for those who are planning to write and publish historical fiction books, the intricacy and particularity of the genre should not intimidate you too much. You only need to be acquainted with the rules for historical fiction to be able to come up with an accurate and beautiful historical fiction story. Here are some of them:

Do some research, but do not let it overwhelm the story

Research is important in historical fiction. When you claim that your fiction book is historical, you already bear the responsibility of ensuring that your story is historically accurate or at least precise. Accuracy or precision is essential in this genre. Of course, you do not want to be labelled as an historical revisionist even though you write fiction. So, when it comes to writing historical fiction, you need to do some research.

Researching involves going to places where historical events took place and getting information from people who are knowledgeable about the historical period that you choose to be the setting of your story. Do not rely too much on the internet. The internet is a bad source for historical research because it is full of flawed information, plagiarized materials, and half-truths. In writing historical fiction, you need to be careful not to overwhelm your story with research. Remember, you are writing an historical fiction book, not an academic thesis.

Make the characters engage with the historical details

When writing historical fiction, do not just include historical details randomly without making space for interactions between them and the characters. These historical details should not just be whim-whams with not much use in establishing your story. When building an historical fiction narrative, let the characters engage with the historical details.

This rule goes along with the common maxim that authors are told all the time: Show, don’t tell. This means that rather than just throwing around a bunch of facts on readers, you should make your characters interact with these historical facts with all their senses. To put it simply, do not just state, demonstrate. For example, do not just write about how guns were heavily used during war. Let the characters smell the awful scent of gunpowder scattered around a war-torn city.

Find a balance between historical details and drama

A historical fiction book should be a perfectly balanced combination of historical details and drama. It should contain just the right amount of fact and fiction. Do not bombard your historical fiction story with too much facts because, again, it is not an academic paper. In the same manner, do not overdramatize your story at the expense of historical accuracy or precision.

The importance of finding a balance between details and drama when writing historical fiction can be understood by looking into Ernest Hemingway’s iceberg theory. According to this theory, much like the visible peaks of an iceberg are supported by a much larger structure beneath the surface, the details in a text should also be supported by an enormous amount of research and knowledge that remains invisible or unknown to the readers. When you apply this to writing historical fiction, you can come up with a book that is well-researched and accurately informative, but creative and entertaining at the same time.

Overall, writing historical fiction demands a lot of considerations. Compared to other genres of literature, historical fiction needs to be both accurate and creative. It demands authors to find the right mix of fact and fiction through researching and the careful inclusion of historical details that does not overwhelm entertainment. Nonetheless, despite its arduousness, anyone can pretty much come up with a good historical fiction book like Esther and the Revolution. Following the rules for historical fiction discussed in this article can greatly help you in such endeavor.


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