Sunday, September 9, 2012

Why I like historical fiction

Someone asked me the other day why I like writing historical fiction. The truth is I like writing in several genres, but historical fiction offers some perks I can't find in most others. If I were writing a contemporary thriller, for instance, say in the vein of Vince Flynn or Tom Clancy, there are a lot of ways for me to steer a false course. You see, you readers today are much more knowledgable, or are at least able to gain access to facts more conveniently than what authors had to worry about in days past when either the reader knew whether an author got the facts right or not, or they had to spend significant time looking the facts up at a library. Google and Wikipedia changed all that.

Now if I want to play the modern thriller game, I've got to be plugged in to the latest and greatest tech-savvy toys available to super spies and how all the three-letter agencies go about their work. Problem is, much of that info is tough to dig up because it's...well, it's superspy-y. That is, it's not so well advertised. If I choose to write a story that takes place in the past, however, then the tech's already known, the boundaries of the "world" my characters inhabit are known, and it's simply a matter of getting the facts straight about stuff that's already happened or been. No problem, right? Well, not really, but that's another story.

Here's the quick and dirty of my pros and cons on writing historical fiction:


  • Don't have to worry about keeping up with the latest technologies.
  • Sense of nostalgia. I love the feel and atmosphere of some of those old worlds. Whether completely true to the day or not, it is the remembrances each of us have from the experiences told to us from previous generations or through old Hollywood films that sometimes make us wish for simpler times.
  • Gives me an excuse to explore, read about and research periods of history that interest me.
  • Gives me an excuse to explore, read about and research places in history that interest me.
  • It provides automatic boundaries for my world and characters to operate in.


  • Keeping things historically accurate requires work. True there's not the latest tech I have to know about, but I still have to do the research to make sure I'm at least keeping things respectably accurate.
    • As an aside, I do veer off on language occasionally to make things contemporarily accessible. After all, who wants to read in old victorian English? When I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy years ago, I had to keep a dictionary at my side the whole time.
  • History is what historians make of it. What one historian writes of a period may not mesh with what another writes, so you've got to pick your poison while doing your research and sell it to the reader sufficiently well enough that they don't bother questioning your facts and just live in and relish the story.
I do want to publish in multiple genres as time goes on. I've got the stories in mind already. This is not necessarily the smartest way forward as a writer. Most say it's best to stick with one genre and develop your audience. But I'm not sure if historical adventure is the best to stick with. While it's fun, it's also a very small niche in the market. As a fledgling author it's important to experiment and see where my voice is strongest. I don't know, but some of those erotica titles my book got listed next to on Amazon looked pretty interesting. 

At the very least, the research would be a hell of a lot of fun!