An enticing plot, memorable characters with relatable flaws, and fast-paced tension will draw a reader into any story, but for historical fiction, the goal is also to transport them to the past. Here are my tips for bringing the past to life:
- Details paint a scene in a reader’s mind but they should not be blatant. Simply mentioning “she rested a hand on her bodice” instead of “hip” begins to place a scene in the past. The historic period should be another aspect of the scenery and plot, but not the dominating characteristic – meaning avoid paragraphs of detail dumps. Instead, integrate historical context into subtle actions, the way characters converse, and in word choices through entomology research.
- Use all the senses; do not just describes objects that are seen. How did clothing of the period feel against skin? How comfortable was the furniture? The way food is prepared affects the flavor and smell. What ambient sounds are in the scene?
- Research. For as much as details pull the reader in, wrong information can also throw them right out. A single anachronism can destroy the entire moment the author has meticulously crafted. It sucks, but that’s the truth. This condemns the historical fiction author to countless hours of research for the tiniest details we take for granted with modern time periods. To help with the never-ending task, here is a list of my favorite historical fiction research resources.
- Make sure the problem – and solution – are historically accurate. History can bite the author in so many ways. For my novel, Apricots and Wolfsbane, I spent several days researching if it were possible for my Tudor assassin to have a greenhouse to overcome her ingredient shortage. (You can read about that research saga here.) Your character may not have had access to loans, education, or even a trustworthy food supply based upon their gender, race, and historical period. But at the same time, these historical hardships can help shape your character, provide opportunities for growth, and force the author to take less-predictable plot choices.
For another perspective on bringing history to life continue the OWS CyCon blog hop with: Robinette Waterson, who writes about the Victorian era.
Wait…What is OWS CyCon?
Our Write Side Cyber Convention is a virtual book fair May 17-19, 2019! Check out the site for book giveaways, live panel discussion, virtual fair booths, cover wars, and more!
While you’re there, please vote for Apricots and Wolfsbane in the HistFict Cover War!
K.M. Pohlkamp is the author if Apricots and Wolfsbane, an award-winning novel following the career of a female poison assassin in Tudor England. She is a blessed wife to the love of her life, proud mother of two young children, and a Mission Control flight controller. A Cheesehead by birth, she now resides in Texas for her day job and writes to maintain sanity. Her other hobbies include ballet and piano. She can be found at http://www.kmpohlkamp.com, Twitter, or Facebook.
Apricots and Wolfsbane
Lavinia Maud craves the moment the last wisps of life leave her victim’s bodies, to behold the effects of her own poison creations. Her morbid desires are balanced with faith since she believes confession erases the sin of murder, though she could never justify her skill to the magistrate she loves.
At the start of the 16th century in Tudor England, Lavinia’s marks grow from tavern drunks to nobility, but rising prestige brings increased risk. When the magistrate suspects her ruse, he pressures the priest into breaking her confessional seal, pitting Lavinia’s instincts as an assassin against the tenets of love and faith. She balances revenge against her struggle to develop a tasteless poison and avoid the wrath of her ruthless patron.
With her ideals in conflict, Lavinia must decide which will satisfy her heart: love, faith, or murder, but the betrayals are just beginning.