5 tips on writing historical fiction

October is slowly surrendering to November which means that all too soon NaNoWriMo will be upon us.
In case you don’t know what that means, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and if you decide to participate, you try to write a novel in one month. Don’t worry, we’re not insane, it’s not supposed to be a finished novel but more like a first draft which you can then improve after the month is over.
To “succeed” at NaNoWriMo, you have to write at least 50 000 words in the month of November.

I have decided to join and finally write down a first draft of the story I have been researching for almost a year. It’s a story of love and betrayal, of heroes and liars but most importantly, it’s the story of real events and real people who have almost been forgotten through the years. I want to do them justice, write down their story so that it won’t be completely erased from history.



To prepare myself for NaNoWriMo, I have brought together some good tips on writing (historical) fiction and I thought I would share them with you. If you have tips to add, do not hesitate to put them in the comments.

Bernard Cornwell:
“I always think of a historical novel as having two stories – the big one and the little one – and the writer flips them.” – Watch the interview with Choncey Boddington here.

For me this means that the historical facts go in the background and my made-up characters’ struggle get’s the spotlight. I had been thinking about this before I watched the interview and when I heard him say this, the pieces of the puzzle I’d been trying to solve just slipped into place.

Read, read, read
I think this goes for every genre. Broaden your mind by reading other works in the genre you wish to write in. I recently read The Song of Achilles and was blown away by the writing. Reading a great piece of literature like that inspires me to write my own.

Write flawed characters
There is no such thing as the perfect person. Heroes always have flaws, but they overcome them and save the day. Take Tony Stark (or Iron Man), he’s arrogant, likes to think he has all the answers but in the end he accepts help from his fellow Avengers and helps them save countless lives. For historical fiction specifically, it’s important to find out how they viewed certain flaws in the time period you’re writing about. Mr Darcy and Rochester were also arrogant but because of the time period, it sort of adds to their character. No?

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice/opinions
If you’re stuck, ask for help. You would do the same if you were stuck in an elevator, wouldn’t you? Then why not when you’re stuck whilst writing? Because you’re scared of what they’ll say? Sometimes, the only way to move forward is to take a step back, look at your story from a distance. If you want to write something historical, ask advice from experts. They love the period you’re writing about and maybe they can even give you some details that can take your story to the next level.

Write for yourself
A general tip. Don’t write for anyone but yourself. Don’t write to make a profit. Don’t write to become famous. Write because you want to. And try to enjoy yourself. It takes time to write down a story and sometimes you’ll want to throw things at a wall but that’s okay. Let the story out.

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, I wish you the best of luck!!



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