Thursday, January 2, 2014

So, You Want to Write Historical Fiction

with guest Amanda Cabot.

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to write historical fiction, read on.  If it isn’t … well, you’re welcome to continue reading.  In fact, I hope you will, because otherwise Audra will regret the fact that she invited me to blog today.  We can’t have that, can we?

I don’t claim to have all the answers – far from it – but I do know that if you want to write historical fiction, there are three basic questions you need to answer.  

What kind of historical fiction do I want to write?

Brilliant, bestselling, award-winning are not the answers I’m looking for, although there’s no doubt that’s what we all hope we’re writing.  Instead, I challenge you to identify the category of historical fiction that most appeals to you.  There are undoubtedly other ways to divide historical fiction, but I’ve split them into two groups: fictionalized history and period fiction.
Fictionalized History

In fictionalized history, the events of the period play a critical role in the story.  Just to further complicate things, I’ve divided fictionalized history into two sub-categories.  

• In the first, the main characters are well-known historical figures.  Jill Eileen Smith’s Wives of King David series is a good example of this.  

• You’ve probably guessed that the other sub-category features protagonists who are fictional or less-known figures.  Consider Diana Wallis Taylor’s Journey to the Well.  Though the heroine is a Biblical character, without Diana’s book we wouldn’t even know her name.  I’d call her a less-known figure.  

Regardless of the sub-category, real historical events form the framework of the plot in fictionalized history.  So, you might ask, what differentiates this from non-fiction?  The emotions.  Are you familiar with the journalistic Five Ws?  Using those terms, readers of fictionalized history know what happened, where and when.  The book provides the answer to why and makes the who come to life.

Period Fiction

In contrast to fictionalized history with its focus on real people, the main characters of what I call period fiction are fictional.  Historical personages, if any, play minor roles in the story.  Similarly, historical events form the backdrop, not the framework, for the story.  Most of the historical fiction books currently published by either the CBA or the secular market fall into this category.

The difference between fictionalized history and period fiction is critical, particularly where reader expectations are concerned.  While readers of fictionalized history want to delve more deeply into the story of real people, readers of period fiction want to be transported to a different time.  They want to learn about that time but from the view of ordinary people rather than historical personages whose biographies they might be able to find in the library or on Wikipedia.

Which category is the right one for you?  Only you can answer that question.  The key is to write the kind of book you love to read.  While it’s true that the market for period fiction is larger than for fictionalized history, if the story that’s burning in your heart is fictionalized history, write it!

That leads us to the second question.

How much history should I include?

I wish it were otherwise, but the answer is that oh, so frustrating “it depends.”  Readers of fictionalized history expect more references to actual events than do readers of period fiction.  In either case, it’s important to remember that you are writing fiction and that the primary focus of fiction is entertainment, not information.  If all a reader wants are the simple facts about a particular event, she can find them in the non-fiction section of the library or bookstore.  If on the other hand, she wants to live those events through a character’s eyes, she’ll choose fiction.

When deciding which historical facts to include, my theory is that less is more.  Include the events that shape your protagonists’ lives and omit the others – no matter how fascinating they might be – unless they have a direct impact on your characters.

How do I make my book feel historical?

Although there are numerous techniques, I’d like to suggest three.

• Judicious use of historical-sounding dialogue.  Notice the word “judicious.”  Depending on the period you’ve chosen, authentic dialogue might overwhelm the reader or – even worse – slow the book as the reader tries to translate it into modern English.  Overuse of “thee,” “thou” and “ye” can become tedious.  On the other hand, the occasional “whilst” instead of “while” and “four-and-twenty” rather than “twenty-four” gives the dialogue an historical feel without becoming burdensome to the reader.

• Era-appropriate analogies.  If you’re writing a story set in the nineteenth century, you’d hardly describe something as being at “warp speed.”  However, consider the following selection from Vickie McDonough’s The Anonymous Bride.

“They crossed the street, shoulder to shoulder, like a trio of gunslingers looking for trouble.”
With the reference to gunslingers, is there any question that we’re in the nineteenth century?

• Telling Details.  Sometimes it’s the smallest of details that adds historical authenticity to a story.  I like the way Stephanie Grace Whitson needs only one sentence in Sixteen Brides to bring the nineteenth century to life.

“Button hook in hand, she sat down and lifted Caroline’s foot into her lap, quickly unhooking each of the ten buttons running up the side of the stylish black leather boot.”
Another author might simply have mentioned the button hook, but the inclusion of “ten buttons” and the notation that they’re “running up the side” gives the passage a feeling of authenticity that can’t help but intrigue readers.

Have I confused you or – even worse – discouraged you?  I hope not.  The bottom line is that while writing historical fiction is not easy, it can be very rewarding.  Not only does it give you a chance to bring earlier times to life for your readers, but it’s also a chance for you to learn new things as you do your research.  If you’re at all interested in writing historical fiction, I urge you to do so.  After all, who can resist the lure of “once upon a time”?

With Autumn's Return

She’s planning on instant success. What she didn’t plan on was love.

When Elizabeth Harding arrives in Cheyenne to open a medical practice, she is confident that the future is as bright as the warm Wyoming sun. Certain she’ll have a line of patients eager for her services, she soon discovers the town may not welcome a new physician—especially a female one. Even Jason Nordling, the handsome young attorney next door, seems to disapprove of her chosen profession.

When a web of deceit among Cheyenne’s wealthiest residents threatens to catch Elizabeth and Jason in its snare, they must risk working together to save one of Elizabeth’s patients, even if it means falling in love.

Amanda Cabot:

From the time that she was seven, Amanda Cabot dreamed of becoming a published author, but it was only when she set herself the goal of selling a book by her thirtieth birthday that the dream came true.  A former director of Information Technology, Amanda has written everything from technical books and articles for IT professionals to mysteries for teenagers and romances for all ages.  She’s delighted to now be a fulltime writer of Christian historical romances.  Her Texas Dreams trilogy received critical acclaim; Christmas Roses was a CBA bestseller; and a number of her books have been finalists for national awards, including ACFW’s Carol award. 


With Autumn Returns is a January release from Revell. Today Seekerville will be giving away one print copy on the January 14 release date. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

First, I love the dress your heroine is wearing. I want it, I want the material, it's just simply lovely and a rarity to see a bright floral or calico on a cover.... Just perfect!

Second, welcome to Seekerville Amanda! I loved when you pointed out the difference between period fiction and fictional history because I understood it completely with your explanation. I don't think I would have recognized the subtle but strong difference before, and yet reading your words, I was able to jump back and see books I've read in different lights.... Thank you!

And third, I brought COFFEE....

As you can see, the world sleeps today, but for me today is another working day, kids coming soon so my next two hours are writing time! But how nice to skip over here and see you, read this post and smile at that gorgeous cover.

I wrote my first historical last year and it was such fun, but it was also work!!!! Who'da thunk it????

And I changed my voice, my word usage, my sentence structure to reflect the 1940's.

A fun task but even so Rachel Meisel caught a few "modernisms" we tweaked out.

Enjoy your day today! I brought COFFEE!!!!!

Enjoy a cuppa.... the fixings are on the cooled back counter, in the bed of ice. Creamers, and do try one of those Lindt Truffles dropped into your coffee... when it melts, you have a mocha-caramel dream!

Cindy W. said...

What a great post Amanda! I never really thought about the types of historical fiction that are on the shelves today. As Ruthy said, it made me think back on the books I've read in the past and decide whether they are period history and fictionalized history. Thank you for bringing the differences to light.

Oh Ruthy, now you've gone and done it...dropping Lindt Truffles into your coffee? I'm doomed...I received a bag of Lindt Truffles in my stocking this year. Now you know I'm going to be dropping some in my coffee this morning. :) Bad for me. But I have to try it.

Looks like everyone is still sleeping off the party! For me, it's another work day.

Have a Happy Day everyone!

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...

Great post! And your covers are always gorgeous!

I've written two historicals and they kicked my heinie. The amount of work was just stunning. It was a lot of fun, but I got so frustrated having to look up every tiny detail... and even then, I still missed obvious anachronisms.

I've heard it gets easier in time, especially if you stay in the same era.

Do you think that's true?

Jackie said...

Welcome to Seekerville and thanks for sharing with us today.

What a beautiful cover on your book. You must be so pleased.

Have a great day!

Audra Harders said...

Ruthy, it's the new year and that means DIET TIME! No dropping of Lindt Truffles in my coffee until at least Easter, LOL! Thanks for the thought though. You brought the best COFFEE!!

Didn't Amanda do a great job explaining the differences between period fiction and fictional history? OMG, the amount of work that goes into writing historical novels.

I started out writing British historicals. Love It! But, there is a lot of research involved and that kept getting in the way of writing the story.

I still have 3 historical novels complete. I might have to pull up my big girl panties and do something with them one of these days, LOL!

Thanks for the treats and I've brought a couple of pans of the Spiced Apple Breakfast Casserole that I brought New Year's Eve. Remember, the whole day's worth of recipes are available for download at

Audra Harders said...

Morning, Cindy! Yes, it's back to work for me too. I'm hoping it's a slow day because I'm moving really slow...

Audra Harders said...

Virginia, good morning! I agree, if you write historicals correctly, they do a lot of heinie kicking, LOL! Pat youself on the back - TWO novels are an accomplishment!

What time period and where are they set?

Audra Harders said...

Jackie, have you seen all of Amanda's covers? They are gorgeous. Revell does such a good job. Go check them out at Amazon. You'll be impressed : )

Audra Harders said...

In addition to Ruthy's coffee bar (complete with Lindt Truffles) and the apple casserole, I've brought a bowl of fruit salad and yogurt parfaits.

Some of us are back to watching our points...

Mary Hicks said...

Amanda, I too love your cover! It's beautiful!

I can't even begin to imagine the work involved in writing historical fiction. I don't enjoy research—something I've got to work on—I can see writing in that genre would require a lot of research.

Good post, thank you for sharing.:-)

DebH said...

Hi Amanda
Thanks for the clarification on historical writing divisions - very clear and concise. Extremely helpful for me to understand, especially next time I read a historical. As for writing one? Eep... not my gifting for sure. I do enjoy reading them though.

Ruthy: awesome idea for the coffee. good to know those chocolate truffles melt nicely. when i'm short on fru-fru coffee creamers or sugar at work, i've been known to take a pepperment lozenge and drop it in the coffee for flavor. it melts a bit slower, but if the coffee is fresh and hot, it does melt away and is tasty too. for some reason, i can't do black coffee (blech!), but Lordy do I ever love the smell brewing coffee...

would love to be in the bowl/hat/container object for a book. one can NEVER have too many books, right?

Amy C said...

Good morning y'all! Lovely post, Amanda! I love your books and can't wait to get my hands on the newest!

Jamie Adams said...

Good morning, Amanda! That was great information, thanks for sharing. Although I write period fiction I love the research involved. If time would allow I'd spend hours in a library just reading about the past. I love your books because they put the reader right there in the time period.

No need to put my name in the drawing. I'm reading the book as we speak/type and it's not even out yet (I have friends in high places ;) )

Jackie Smith said...

Amanda, have to say it.....I love the cover, too!
I would love to read it; have not read any of your books but plan to change that in 2014!
Note: Melissa J.'s book (BFK) is cheaper today on Kindle...I just downloaded it!!!!

Kav said...

I love historicals! Though I read somewhere that 'they' (whoever they are) were saying that historicals are on the way out but I don't believe them!!!!

I am so appreciative of the research historical authors do for their books. Caught a really neat British show called 'If Walls Could Talk' that would be a great research tool. It was on the PBS channel.

A British historian with the Royal Museum highlights a different room in the house each episode and takes the viewer through the centuries with a 'hands on' tour. Like making bread in the medieval kitchen through to the Victorian era.

Fascinating stuff with all kinds of interesting tidbits. Like the term 'upper crust' comes from the fact that the bread in a Medieval kitchen always had a blackened bottom because it was hard to regulate the heat in their ovens. The blackened bit was cut off and the upper crust was given to the nobility while the charred bottom was for the servants and serfs. Who knew? Anyway, that show would be a neat research tool for the historical writer.

Courtney Phillips said...

I LOVE to read historicals, but I enjoy writing contemporaries. My crazy sister (who I let borrow one of Julie Klassen's books) always makes a face when I talk about historicals. I think she believes they all have the same type of language as Pride and Prejudice (which I also tried to get her to read.)
To each her own. Great post!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Good morning AUDRA and welcome to Seekerville AMANDA,
Timely post since my new year's project is to start my historical and thank you thank you for defining the different types. I knew there were different types and I know the type I want to write but just didn't know how to label them. SWEET.

Thanks for joining us and sharing. Have fun today.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Well aren't we full of surprises today. AUDRA and RUTHY have written historicals. Who would have known?

KAV thanks for the heads up. Sounds fun.

And AUDRA the apple casserole is divine. RUTHY I'm passing on your coffee as I have my Chocolate velvet which I will share if anyone wants chocolate flavor without the calories that naughty truffle will cause.

CINDY W good for you that you still have truffles left. I received some for Christmas also and they are all GONE. sigh

Julie Hilton Steele said...

I am a fan of historical writing because of the research that goes along.

My biggest problem is loving research TOO much!

Thanks for your words of wisdom.

Peace, Julie

Clari Dees said...

I cut my reading teeth on authors like Louis L'Amour, Grace Livingston Hill, and Janette Oke, and I work as a librarian who handles all the research tasks for our small public library. So although I love reading contemporary inspirational fiction as well as period fiction, writing period fiction feels more comfortable. Like Julie H Steel, I like the research part and have to remind myself to get back to writing. :-)

Thank you for a fun post today, Amanda! Your newest release sounds very good, and I agree with the consensus. The cover is beautiful!

Cara Lynn James said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Amanda! Lovely book cover.

I love writing historical fiction but it involves a lot of research that's sometimes hard to find. You can really learn so much digging into old books etc. I's really distracting and lot of fun.

Thanks for the coffee, Ruthy! Today is dreary so I need a kick-start.

Sherri Shackelford said...

I have always enjoyed reading historical fiction. And, I think, I'm kind of a throwback myself in a lot of ways. I really enjoy writing historical fiction!

Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Amanda. I love reading and writing period fiction. Thanks for your excellent post on ways to add historical flavor to our stories. Your examples of using analogy and detail are wonderful.

Your book looks wonderful! I love heroines who break tradition and open doors.


Myra Johnson said...

Amanda, it's delightful to have you in Seekerville today! I never thought I'd write historical romance, but a few months ago I turned in the third novel in my post-WWI series for Abingdon Press (working on edits this week). Learning how to be both purposeful and selective with research has been . . . interesting.

So what are your favorite research sources, especially for era-appropriate words and phrases?

Piper Huguley said...

Thank you for your clear explanations of the differences in historical fiction, Amanda!

And I'm with Kav. I don't know who "they" are, but I'm tired of hearing about historicals as being on the way out of whatever. I love to be transported, but it's also the learning part of the details of the day, as you explained it, that makes the reading (and the writing) of historicals such fun. Thank you for being in Seekerville today!

Lis said...

Thanks for the clarification, it was really enlightening. Btw, I loved the first two books in the series!
garfsgirl [at] hotmail [dot] com

Ashley said...

I loved this post! Historical fiction has always held an allure for me as far as being something I'd like to write. I'm glad I know the difference between period history (what I prefer) and fictionalization history.

Ashley said...

I meant "fictionalized."

Audra Harders said...

Happy New Year, Mary! Amanda has been gifted with great covers from Revell, hasn't she?

DebH, I don't know if I have the patience to write an historical right now, either. Brain too scattered : )

Welcome, Amy C! You are in the drawing!

Julie Lessman said...


Like everyone else, I LOVE your cover!! Revell does great work, don't they?

EXCELLENT blog on writing historical fiction, and one I certainly could have used when I started out!! I was SO green that when my agent told me my book was a historical, I was shocked because to me, the era was just the frame in which to place a character-driven story. I've learned a lot since then about historical fiction, but your blog is the college degree, in my opinion, so THANK YOU!!

UNLIKE Julie H.S. and Clari D., I do NOT like the research aspect of writing historical fiction, but I have come to appreciate all those rich and wonderful details one can sow into a novel. My epiphany came in my first book A Passion Most Pure, when I realized that the U.S. entered The Great War on Good Friday, which helped me to perfectly frame an Easter scene for a day that was anything but "good."

Another fun tidbit that further enhanced my appreciation of historical jewels to dress up a novel was in A Hope Undaunted, which was set at the end of the Roaring 20s, when the original Equal Rights Amendment came into play for my headstrong and liberated heroine. I also had fun incorporating tidbits like Foster Grant hawking his new-fangled invention called sunglasses on the boardwalk of Atlantic City!

So, YES, Virginia, my response to your question of "does it get easier" to write historical fiction, I think it does.

BUT ... I'm VERY anxious to experience the difference in writing historical vs. contemporary in the next novel I plan to write, which will be a contemporary. Should be fun!!


Audra Harders said...

Jamie, you luck bucket getting to read Amanda's book telling, and no spoilers, LOL!

Jackie, thanks for the heads up on Melissa's book. I'll hop over to Amazon in a moment!

Jan Drexler said...

Wow! Amanda Cabot is here today!

Thank you for pointing out the differences between period fiction and fictional history. I knew they were there, but having names for the two types helps immensely.

One thing I love about writing historicals is the language. When I move from the 20th century to the 19th century, I have to keep in mind that word usage and sentence structure are so different from our modern language. It makes a huge impact when writing dialogue.

And we're back to a normal day at our house, which means I'm back to tackling chapter 3 in my WIP :) Oh, how I love normal!

Audra Harders said...

Kav! I've got to catch this show! I love history, especially British. PBS, huh? I will scan the programs. Thanks!

Courtney, we all know Pride and Prejudice is the cornerstone book of Regency historicals. Your sister will come around...

Audra Harders said...

Amanda, do you know what the difference is between Regencies and Regency historicals? I've heard both terms.

Audra Harders said...

Sandra, you're writing an historical? Good for you! Where is it set and what time period?

Who said historical romances are dead? They do not know what they're talking about!!

Naomi Rawlings said...

If there's anything that makes me a terrible historical author, it's the research. I really despise it. I promise myself I'll look information up later and never do and probably commit all kinds of historical errors. But the idea of picking any time period I choose and making it come to life is just too alluring. (That and I've never come up with a good contemporary story. Maybe if I could actually think of a good one . . .)

Naomi Rawlings said...

Julie Lessman, I still remember meeting you at conference for the first time and asking you about how you researched your novels.

You smiled brightly and said, "Oh honey, I don't research them much at all."

And I went Finally! A historical author after my own heart!!! :-)

Hope your contemporary proves fun!

Amanda Cabot said...

Good morning everyone! I'm so glad that you've gotten up earlier than me and are all drinking coffee (the truffles make it sound delicious) and talking about historical fiction.

Ruth -- You're so right that the voice in historicals is different from contemporaries. Sometimes I think it's subtle -- things like the length of sentences -- but other times it's more obvious, like the use of different vocabulary.

As for the cover, there's a story behind that. If you're interested, I blogged on the subject last week:

Amanda Cabot said...

Virginia -- Yes, there's a ton of work involved in writing historicals, but there's also a lot of research required for contemporaries -- it's just different. I do think that writing historicals gets easier the more you do, mostly because you start to live in that era. Does that sound weird? Maybe I shouldn't admit it, but I've found myself dreaming about some of my fictional towns and picturing myself walking down those streets.

Amanda Cabot said...

Audra -- One of my challenges is NOT to do research while I'm actually writing. I do a lot of research and note taking before I start the story, but when I'm doing the first draft, if I need information, rather than break my train of thought, I simply write a note, telling myself to look for that information later.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Good morning, Amanda.

What an excellent post. Almost scares me into writing a historical novel.


Tina Radcliffe said...

Wow, Mary Connealy. That was like totally helpful dude.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Piper. New profile pix. Gorgeous as always!@!

Mary Connealy said...

I do know this, in historical fiction, your hero can AT NO TIME, make microwave popcorn.

Which is a total bummer.

Also, your hero can AT NO TIME say, "that's a total bummer."

Amanda Cabot said...

Kay -- Sales of historicals have dropped over the last couple years, but those of us who've been in the business for a while know that everything's cyclical, so I'm expecting an upturn soon. Wishful thinking? I hope not, because I love historicals.

Thanks for the information about the PBS show. I'm going to see when it's broadcast here. Sounds great!

Stephsco said...

My first fully completed manuscript was a period historical--what challenge! Even though the book took place 50 years ago rather than 100+, I still had to fact check everything and did not assume phrases or even types of food had been in use at the time. At least it got me in the habit of checking sources and using setting to drive the story, since historical setting often manipulates the plot and characters.

Mary Connealy said...

Sorry about that, Tina.
I deleted my comment and fixed a typo.

I did it fast though, but not before Tina commented on my comment.

Which makes her look kinda like oh, like...she's seeing into the what do you call that?

Some kind of a...seer.

A fortune teller.

All very mystical.
wtg tina

Mary Connealy said...

I had one of my cowboys once respond to something by saying, "Whatever."

It was funny when I typed it.

And it made it into the book.

Now I seriously cringe. It's just all wrong.

Mary Connealy said...

CLARI and Julie Steele, see that's the thing...the research is so fun.

It's such a time sink though.

But I have had some really great experiences with research for one book sparking an idea for the next book that I'd decided instead of beating myself up for spending four hours reading about Andersonville Prison when I found what I really needed after ten minutes, I'm going to consider it all time well spent.

Amanda Cabot said...

Myra -- I wish I could give you a good source of information about sources for era-appropriate vocabulary. It's much easier to find which words weren't in use at a specific time than which ones were. As I'm writing, I find myself asking "does this sound so modern?" and that's an exception to my "no research while writing" rule, because I pick up the dictionary and check. Of course, that often takes much longer than it should, because I find myself looking at other words on the same page and thinking about them. I should probably use an on-line dictionary and avoid the tendency to get lost in words.

Mary Connealy said...

Amanda, I am ALWAYS looking for an excuse to stop writing so of course I stop and go do research.

Amanda Cabot said...

Julie -- I love your examples of the details you use to bring a period feel to your books. I've found that it's those details that readers remember and that turn a book from ordinary to extraordinary. My theory is that we all like to learn, even when we're reading fiction, so a few tidbits of history and/or life at a specific time enhance the story and give it more appeal.

CatMom said...

Welcome Amanda, and thank you so much for your post today.
I LOVE to read and write historical fiction, but as a writer am always open to tips. I'm saving your post!
LOVE your book cover (and the title) - - very intriguing.
Please enter me in the drawing, and Happy New Year!
Blessings from Georgia, Patti Jo

Amanda Cabot said...

Audra -- Great question about Regencies vs. Regency Historicals. The distinction used to be that Regencies were short books in the style of Georgette Heyer, whereas Regency Historicals were the longer (and often sexier) books that are so popular now.

Amanda Cabot said...

Mary -- No microwaves, no air conditioning, sometimes not even indoor plumbing. Doesn't it make you wonder why we all love historicals so much?

Audra Harders said...

Mary, I did wonder about Tina's psychic abilities...

She has surprised me more than once with the things she knows.

Audra Harders said...

Piper, great new pic!

I don't think historicals will ever be out, too many people love to dream about knights in shining armor, or swashbucklers, or cowboys who herd on horseback rather than 4-wheelers, LOL!

Audra Harders said...

Gone With The Wind Julie writing a contemporary romance? Say it ain't so! No wait, every novel Julie writes is sass and sizzle so I guess I can't wait for her contemporary novels LOL!!

Julie, I don't think you needed to do much research for A Passion Most Pure. I know of no one else who can recite Gone With The Wind in its entirety. You lived it, girlfriend!

Piper Huguley said...

New year, new pic, you know Tina and Audra? Thanks!

Amanda, you make a great point. You have to do research for contemporaries as well. No difference in that process. Might as well write a historical--to my way of thinking. And watching PBS is one of my favorite ways to do research, Kav!


Vince said...

Hi Amanda:

I’m with Ruth. I really like the dress on “With Autumn’s Return”. I’d like to see Ruth make it and wear it. Can you imagine Ruth appearing at a writer’s conference wearing that dress while you are at the table signing autographs for that same book? For that outcome I would send Ruth the material. : )

You seem to have the best dresses on your covers. I think the dresses on “Summer of Promise“ and “Waiting for Spring“ (which is my all time favorite dress on the cover of a romance) are just flat out memorable. Do you have anything to do with these dress selections? Do you send the artist pictures you’ve found in your research? I don’t pay much attention to dresses on covers but I remember these two.

I have a request for historical fiction authors: please put a few facts in the story so that a real history buff can set the time and place. Of course, I’m a big fan of ‘headstones’ for example:

Victoriaville, Texas
Summer, 1888

If I see the above at the head of the first chapter, I’m comfortable, right at home, and ready to read. You can keep me guessing about backstory facts but I don’t want to guess about when and where the story is happening.

I’m also very pleased when in the story the husband is reading the newspaper and he mentions something interesting to his wife. For example, “I see that English writer, Oscar Wilde, will be in town to give a lecture. Do you think we should go? They say here that he is real funny.” Now a fact like that makes it a real historical novel for me. These English authors, as well as Mark Twain, were giving lectures all over American during the last part of the 19th century. Lectures paid better than their writing did!

BTW: I’ve used those five “W’s” for years when writing long advertising copy but I had an “H” in mine. Who, what, when, where, why and how. I found the ‘how’ very helpful. Others might as well.


P.S.: Amazon now has a Kindle version of “A Tale of Two Cities” with a picture of the Eiffel Tower on the cover. This is a classic mistake an instructor could print and use in a workshop on writing or cover design. You might want to download this cover while you can.

Clari Dees said...

Amanda, thanks for the link to your blog. I always enjoy it when an author gives us a little "backstory" on how a cover is made.
I would have had trouble choosing between the print dress (love bustled dresses) and the plaid one--I really like the style, color, and yes, even the plaid fabric. (Maybe that's the Scot in me)☺☺☺

Clari Dees said...

Here's the clickable link to Amanda Cabot's blog.

The Story Behind the Cover -- With Autumn's Return

Susan Anne Mason said...

Happy New Year everyone!

Great post, Amanda and a beautiful cover!

I have written 2 historicals from different eras and yes, the research is daunting-but also fun. I could get lost doing the research, let me tell you!

Even in contemporaries though, there is research involved but that's how we learn things! LOL.

Overall, I prefer writing contemporaries. Love to read both!

sbmason at sympatico dot ca

Heidi said...

I love that you included historical analogies from two of my favorite authors that got me hooked on Christian historical fiction :) Your book cover is so warm, it makes me want to dive right in!

Jennifer Smith said...

Thanks for the great tips! I haven't dabbled in historical writing yet, but I haven't ruled it out, either. :) Beautiful book cover!

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

I love the cover, Amanda. Thank you for the explanation and the helpful tips on making historicals come alive. I enjoy reading fictional history the most but wrote two period fictions with difficulty. Only hope it gets easier as I write more of them.
Like Julie I tend to get engrossed in the research. It's always a challenge to just weave interesting facts into the background so as not to compromise entertainment value. In one of my stories my heroine is in a scene with an historical figure. It's demanding when your character is prominent in history and accuracy is vital. I always questioned whether this encounter could've occurred.
Kav, If Walls Could Talk is a fantastic British show. Also, watching period dramas on Netflix or Amazon is helpful in getting a feel for the time. PBS has many of those filmed through the U.K.
Many thanks for being here. I learned much from your post

Emma said...

Happy New Year. With Autumn's Return sounds wonderful. Please enter me in contest. Thank you for the opportunity to win.I enjoy reading your books.

Stephanie Queen Ludwig said...

Hi Amanda! I enjoyed this post, and really enjoy reading historical fiction, usually the "period fiction," as you call it. I would LOVE to write one someday, and have several ideas for some stories (mainly WWII-era), but I am focusing on "contemporary stories with a historical twist" right now. I can have the best of both worlds!

KAV-- LOVE that detail about the "upper crust!" I have never seen that show, but my husband and I frequently watch shows like it, on History, Travel, etc. channels. Usually those little tidbits or stories send me down an internet rabbit hole and produce great inspiration!

Audra Harders said...

Vince I love your keen eye for detail. Small snippets of real life bring me into the story and keep me interested. A step back in time, for sure.

Jan, I love the language, too, but that's the easiest place mess up. I never saw the movie, but Richard Gere played a knight (Sir Lancelot?) and the review said his New York drawl (do New Yorkers drawl?) didn't even touch a British accent. Ruined the movie. That's much the same with historical language and words.

I'm still giggling over Mary's historical cowboy saying "whatever."

Audra Harders said...

Susan Anne, you brave girl. Two historicals from different eras? I'm a firm believer (maybe because I'm lazy) that once I nail down a time and place, I'm going to stay there until I HAVE TO move on.

Writing contemporaries, so much easier, but reading historicals very captivating.

Audra Harders said...

Heidi, glad you loved the cover.

Jennifer, I'm glad you did, too. Hop over to Amanda's blog and see how she chose this dress over another. I found that facscinating.

BTW, I think she made the right choice : )

Amanda Cabot said...

Vince -- You're right about needing the "H." When I first learned about the Five W's, my teacher said "Five W's plus 'how' and details. Of course, if I'd included all that in this blog, you'd still be reading it. There's a reason I'm challenged keeping a story below 110,000 words.

As for the cover dresses, I've had input into the ones for Waiting for Spring and With Autumn's Return. In the case of Spring, Revell commissioned a custom gown (which is why it fits the model so perfectly), and I had the privilege of choosing the style and color. I blogged about that one too, so here's the link:

Audra Harders said...

Pat, I'm always nervous about having my characters interact with real people. I know there's no reason they shouldn't, but I think I'd be thinking the encounter to death wondering how realistic this could be. Brings a whole 'nother dimension to the story threads...and personally, I have a hard enough time tying the ends up!

Amanda Cabot said...

Clari -- I'm still not sure about the plaid, but it's good to know that you think it would have worked for a cover. You never can tell when it might be just the right gown for a specific story.

Amanda Cabot said...

Pat -- I agree with Audra that having real people as characters -- even minor ones -- would make me nervous. One of my complaints about another author's book is that she placed real people in Cheyenne at times when they weren't there. Admittedly, I'm probably the only person who noticed that, but it bothered me. A LOT.

Connie Queen said...


I love historical, but as a reader, it's not my goal to learn something. You gave great examples of "accidental" history lessons that brings the period to life.

Love your cover.

Amanda Cabot said...

As I read (and reread) all these comments, I'm delighted to see how many people are writing historical fiction. I read (and write) both, but I have to admit to having a preference for "times gone by."

Lyndee H said...

Great lessons, Amanda. And so cool that you had a say in the cover gown. As an IL historian, I have a very hard time turning off the research! That started the day I discovered 'the internet.' Every search led to another search and I was nearly possessed because every fact must be checked against three verifiable sources. To me it's a giant puzzle. Thanks for sharing your ideas here.

Elaine Manders said...

Thanks for a great post, Amanda.

I write historical because that's what I've always liked to read. I like to move in different eras too, but nothing earlier than the 1700s. I get lost.

In one of my stories I had senators and congressmen, but wanted them to be fictional. I had to look up the Congressional Record to make sure I didn't use a real name.

One of my irritations is finding modern words or phrases in historical, so please watch the dialect.

I think it's so funny that Mary researched Andersonville, which is about an hour's drive from where I live and one of my settings is in Nebraska. I guess historical writers like to make things hard for themselves.

Leslie Ann aka LA said...

Hello Amanda, Nice to see you here.

Your examples really highlighted the points you were making. I love it when there are examples, it's my best way to learn.

5W's, Who, what, when, where, why? Are those correct?

I'm late to the party, any food left? I never thought to drop a truffle into my coffee, Ruth did you keep one aside for me?

And boy wasn't the New Year's Eve Party something else? Loved it.

Chill N said...

Amanda, what a great detail about using era-appropriate analogies. I've known about this as far as it reflects a character but am not sure I ever thought of it in terms of the times. I can see where that would add lots of feeling for the place in a minimum of words. Thanks!

So glad to find out about With Autumn's Return! Cheyenne at that time will be a treat to read about.

Nancy C

Christina Rich said...

Amanda, I had a fan of your work and you do such a great job bringing history alive, as does Vickie (I just wrote a blog on her Jan 1 release).

I write historicals, and you're right, it's not easy but it is rewarding. My biggest fear is not getting all of the details right.

Thank you for sharing your insight.

Walt Mussell said...

I know it's late, but I've just tested my new coffee maker. My old one bought the farm after less than six months.

I love the discussion of period fiction vs. historical fiction. I write period fiction. Real characters do appear in my book, and I try to stay true to what's going on at the time, but my main characters are invented.

Also love the analogies comment. I struggle with that in my Japan-based WIPs as I wonder if even my analogies, accurate for the period, will make sense.

Natalie Monk said...

Love historical fiction!

I'm chiming in late, but wanted to say thank you so much for addressing how much history to include!! I've wondered that so many times.

Excellent post.

Boos Mum said...

Your books always have such beautiful covers. Please enter me. Thanks.

sweetdarknectar at gmail dot com

Marianne Barkman said...

Mom and I safely arrived in Phoenix Arizona yesterday! It felt like along day, but when we hear of people being stranded for over 24 hours because of severe winter weather, we we blessed! The weather here is awesome! I spent the day trying to organize, rent a vehicle, make a grocery list for tomorrow's errand run, etc. and waited for my IPad to connect to my WiFi. So here I am. I definitely enjoy Period Fiction where the characters are fiction, or lesser known people! Thanks for a chance to win!

Mary Preston said...

I do enjoy reading Historical Fiction.

Rachel Jones said...

Congratulations, Amanda, on your new release. I love the cover, but even more I love the fact that Elizabeth is a physician. I'm saving your blog for future reference, as one day i would like to try my hand at writing a historical novel.

Pam Hillman said...

Enjoyed reading this, Amanda!

I write historical fiction where the main characters are totally fictitious.

I try to make historical events as accurate as possible, and when in doubt, I might allude to something, but not spend a lot of time on it.

As for real well-known historical people (like the President of the United States), I would add them to the story if I find in my research that they are in the area where the story takes place. Or, if I didn't want to actually have my characters engage with him, I'd at least make mention of the event for authenticity.

marilyn leach said...

Amanda, enjoyed your post, so well organized and articulated, but then I've come to expect that when you're giving us valuable writing information. I hope to do some English medieval historical fiction, but I've a ton of research to do first. Thanks.

Jeri Hoag said...

Thank you so much for posting. I seem to want to write everything, but historical fiction holds a special place since I was a history major. Your advice was helpful and I look forward to reading your book soon.

Jeri Hoag

Jeri Hoag said...

Thank you so much for posting. I seem to want to write everything, but historical fiction holds a special place since I was a history major. Your advice was helpful and I look forward to reading your book soon.

Jeri Hoag

Amanda Cabot said...

I'm so sorry I missed the New Year's Eve party -- all that food sounded wonderful -- but I'm glad to have connected with so many of you over this blog. Seekerville is such a fun place to hang out. Thank you all for making me feel so welcome.

Missy Tippens said...

Amanda, I'm sorry I missed dropping by yesterday! We spent the day buying a used car for my daughter.

I don't write historical, but I sure love to read it! Thanks for sharing this info in case I ever get brave enough to try writing it. :)

Micaela Wood said...

Loved this article! Thanks so much for sharing :)
I definitely write period fiction....the research is so much fun!!

Love that book cover :)

Abbi Hart said...

I'm a little late to this giveaway due to being horribly sick the past few days but I'd love the chance to win!

Sarah Rebekah Richmond said...

Wow I love the cover of the book, I have not read any of your books yet but I would to get the chance to finally read one of your books, All of your books look awesome and I you will always keep writing your books no matter what happens, God gave you a wonderful to be writer!!! Thanks for the awesome giveaway and God Bless!!!
Sarah Richmond
N.C. :D