Writing Historical Fiction-How Much Detail is Enough?

Even though Historical fiction may be read for entertainment, it has to be accurate. Mastering history and fiction, the need for accuracy, and the degree of detail required will make the story believable to the reader.

Writing historical fiction can be both a difficult and rewarding for an author. It can require a fair if not a great amount of research and attention to detail, but it also leads to fascinating new information and it can be the gateway for readers to find an unknown point of view of historical facts in an entertaining format. But the writer must get the details right in order for the historical experience to work.

As a historical fiction fan and writer I know that creating a realistic historical atmosphere requires long hours of researching the time period and the historical characters involved. But at the same time, the author must be careful not to let the details sabotage the story. Thea author must be careful to not focus on the research and historical details; instead, the author must concentrate in creating a convincing plot and realistic. The historical details must be used as tools to present a believable setting, and historical events can be the trigger that will drive the characters within the story. Here are some tips to consider when writing Historical Novels.

The Detail Formula

While the characters and story should be the focus over the details when writing historical fiction, authors must pay attention to the details to make the story realistic. The details the writers decide to mention not only have to be accurate with the geography of the setting location, it also needs to be accurate to the era the story is taking place. Following is a short list of details that will enrich the story without taking over:

·         Flora and Fauna: When creating the setting the writer must pay attention to the flora and fauna relevant to the place and time of the story. For example, if the story takes place during the Medieval Times in Great Britain. The trees, and other plants detailed as part of the landscape must be accurate to what historically existed. This is also true with the fauna.

·         Food & Drink: What did people in the 1940s, eat and drink in the Italian Colonies in Libya?  When writing my book, what people ate was very important, as I was writing about an Italian family in Libya during World War II. Not being accurate on what foods were available would have discredited the entire story. This type of question must be asked by the writer when researching for details that can make or break the credibility of   the plot by presenting to the reader obvious errors as true historical facts. Such errors will create reader’s confusion and disbelief which could lead to disinterest and even the dropping of the book.

·         Inventions: This is, in my opinion, the most difficult to keep straight. We humans are so accustomed to our life, that in many cases the writer might include objects and inventions that were nonexistent during the time the story is taking place. But objects existence time frame is not the only fact the writer needs to get right. It is also imperative that the availability of certain objects is also accurate. For example, would be accurate to state that everyone in Europe owned a radio in the1940’s?

·         Dates and Time: Attention to detail includes dates. Do you know what day of the week was July 4, 1776? Did it snow in Boston on March 3, 1888? If it matters to the story, writers must know these things. Dates, weather, which day of the week and even time of certain facts must be accurate when included in the story. This is one of the most important details of Historical Fiction, as it is facts like these that are kept in the history records of Historical events that mark specific era.

·         Remember this is a short list, and the author should question everything for its historical accuracy before including it.

How Detailed Must You Be?

Writers don’t need to know everything about the time period to write a historical novel. Writers must focus on what interest them and use broad brush strokes so the details don’t bore. While the characters need to feel real and time-appropriate, you don’t have to prove to the reader how much you know, but the little you know should be accurate. People do not read historical fiction so much for information as for entertainment. However, they read Historical Fiction for a reason, and when the historical category is chosen there is an expectation by the reader of a credible story.