Writing Historical Fiction
Back in high school, I overheard two girls lamenting how awful their classes were and how they ‘hated’ history. Since I was hiding in a bathroom stall at the time, I didn’t give voice to my horror at their sentiment, but it has stuck with me in the thirty years since. How could they ‘hate’ history?
Unfortunately, all too easily if by ‘history’ they meant the memorization of facts and dates that had little or no bearing on their lives. Why did they care what year the Civil War began? Or who was the tenth president of the United States? Or what happened in the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia (though knowing might clarify our wars in the Middle East today, but that’s a different topic).
That’s not what history is about. History is about people. It’s the anthropology of the past. It’s about finding out why people did what they did; what they cared about; and the nitty gritty of how they lived and died.
I strongly believe with Donna Tartt that: “The first duty of the novelist is to entertain. It is a moral duty. People who read your books are sick, sad, traveling, in the hospital waiting room while someone is dying. Books are written by the alone for the alone.”
But along with entertaining, what I love about historical fiction is that it can bring history to life.
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