When I first started writing, the last thing I wanted to write was historical fiction. I thought it would be tooooo much research. The truth is . . . it is!
But I also discovered I LOVE research, and writing historical fiction has become a love of mine. A few things I’ve done while researching for my historical novels:
1. I’ve interviewed a Holocaust survivor in a village in Austria just a few minutes from where he was liberated.
2. I’ve taking a tour of an Alaskan bay and saw the swish of a whale’s tale.
3. I walked the cobblestone streets of Prague—the very streets Nazis once marched down.
4. I wandered through a Jewish museum in Frankfurt, Germany, and learned of the horrors done to Jews over generations.
5. I’ve interviewed a ninety-three-year-old rancher in Montana whose parents were homesteaders.
6. I’ve chatted with a woman who was a riveter for B-17 Bombers in Seattle during World War II.
History is fascinating! The people are fascinating. The hard part is making sure my historical novels aren’t entirely about the history. Historical fiction should not be boring!
Yes, the piles of shoes and clothes found upon liberation of the concentration camp amazes me, but I always have to ask myself, “Is this information vital to my story?”
Facts can weigh down your novel, no matter how interesting the facts are.
When I first started writing historical fiction I researched way too much. When I wrote my first historical novel From Dust and Ashes,
One of the fascinating things I read about was Displaced Person Camps. Those who survived the concentration camps went to these camps until they were able to find their way home. At these camps families were reunited or people discovered the deaths of their loved ones.
When writing From Dust and Ashes I wanted to include this information; after all, I’d spent so much time learning about the camps. So in the middle of my story my characters left their location, went to one of these camps, looked for someone (who wasn’t there), and then returned. The scenes were powerful and emotional, but they had no place in the story . . . and my editor pointed that out.
In the end those chapters were cut. I was sad (because now I’d spent time writing those scenes, too), but it was worth it. The book was better for it.
So while researching for historical novels is important, don’t let the research take you on a rabbit trail. It’s a waste of time, and it’ll most likely need to be cut.
Today, when I sit down to write my historical fiction, I figure out what’s going to be in the novel and what information I’ll need; I’ll research only that. Of course, sometimes my research will uncover a gem I have to add, but for the most part I focus only what I’ve already determined my story needs.
So write history! Write it well! Don’t be afraid to write historical fiction. But don’t let too many facts get in the way of writing a beautiful story. You do need the facts—just not as many as you think.