Dear Writers:

We hope that you are well and safe as we practice social distancing to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

In lieu of in-person Writers Night Out and Pathways to Publication presentations the Cape Cod Writers Center will be posting literary presentations to help with your work and promotion.

Below you’ll find the first of these from best-selling author, Whitney Scharer, who planned to present on Turning Fact Into Fiction at our April 11th Pathways to Presentation seminars.

Whitney Scharer

Fact Into Fiction

Greetings, all! The craft of writing historical fiction is a twinning of imagination and historical exploration. It’s a chance to explore an untold story from history, or tell the other perspective of a famous story, or to bring a modern perspective or sensibility to a historical narrative. I’m delighted to share some tips and tricks about writing historical fiction with you today.


Four Tips For Writing Historical Fiction

  1. Determine your relationship to authenticity.

As you begin thinking about your own piece of historical fiction, it’s good to be able to articulate how you are going to approach blending fact and fiction in your work. Because you are writing fiction, there are no hard and fast rules, but it’s good to create a framework for yourself so that when people ask you why you did such and such, you can answer those questions. This framework might be as simple as “I will only include characters who actually lived, and will not alter the facts of their lives as I have read them in research texts, but I will make up their dialogue and interiority based on what I learn about them from my research.”

  1. Get creative with your research

How do you do the research you need to make the characters come alive? Here are some great sources I used for research and inspiration that may work for you too:

  • Find an expert and interview them.
  • Learn about the politics and current events of your time period
  • If available, consult newspapers and magazines of the era.
  • Figure out who the famous authors were of the time. Read a bit of their work for the flavor of the writing.
  • Make a slang journal.
  • Make inspiration boards (Pinterest or non-digital). Images can be just as inspirational as text.
  1. Make your world come alive…but in a modern way

You need to include period details in order to make the past come alive, but the period details you choose can’t overload the narrative or feel like a historical fiction info-dump. In order to see how this is done, go through a page or two of your favorite pieces of historical fiction and highlight all the time-specific words/details the author has used. You’ll probably be surprised by how few there are on any given page. Less is more.

  1. Make sure details you DO include are ones your point-of-view character would use

If your character is a woman from the upper class, she’s going to be the sort of person who notices clothing details, architecture, furniture, etc. A cobbler will notice totally different things: shoe leather, horses, tools, etc. Make sure that the details you bring into your piece help to illuminate the historical landscape as well as your character’s inner landscape.

There’s lots more to say, but I hope these tips have been helpful. Best of luck with your projects!

Whitney Scharer – Books and the World Interview