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The Problem With Writing A Historic Novel

By May 10, 2023August 12th, 2023No Comments

Researching my historic novel

For the past few months my latest work-in-progress, writing a historic novel, has been on the back burner while we settled into our new home and made a welcome return to the world of hiking and dining. This week, with a lull in both those projects, I decided to return to my writing.

Having been away from it for so long, I began by reading all the preparatory text I’ve written so far. I had completely forgotten how much work I have already done on the preliminary outline; draft synopses for a trilogy of novels; character profiles; setting descriptors; key scenes in the first book… along with reams and reams of research on even the smallest historical details.

And that latter category is where I keep getting stuck and finding myself resorting to procrastination.

How do I extricate my fictional novel from the historic facts upon which it’s based?

Getting caught up in detail when writing a historic novel.

Every time I get the bit between my teeth and start writing, I trip up over some relatively minor point of description like, would the stairs have been carpeted, and if so, what colour is it likely to have been? What would she have been wearing on her feet – soft soles or wooden ones? As my writing is description-heavy, this sort of detail plays a pivotal role in the narrative, but the constant hesitation is disrupting the flow.

I’ve tried just writing and then going back, highlighting areas that I think I need to research more deeply, but as the highlighted text builds, somehow it feels as though I’m descending into an A-level history essay, albeit a somewhat lengthy one.

I’m also realising that I’ve probably got enough research and ideas to end up with an entire series which, given my remarkably slow progress to date, I may not have time to finish before I cast off this mortal coil.

Fact vs Fiction

If I’m to move forward creatively, I’m going to have to find a way to leave the world of facts behind and immerse myself in the world of fiction.

One of the many sources I’ve scoured for inspiration on how to square this circle, summed it up nicely in the statement:

‘history demands fidelity to the past whereas fiction demands infidelity’.

So why write fiction at all if the historic facts are more important than the narrative flow, character building, and plot?

The simple answer to that is – it isn’t, so either dump the novel and write a history book instead or forget about the historic facts and concentrate on the fiction.

As I have no desire to write a history book, I’ve decided to do the latter. And if someone chooses to pick me up on the accuracy of mentioning a scarlet embroidered carpet in a fifteenth century household, I’ll scream. Then I’ll research it thoroughly and probably make an amendment – d’oh!


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