Guest posting about historical fiction today .... - Sarah Woodbury

Guest posting about historical fiction today ….

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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4 Replies to “Guest posting about historical fiction today ….”

  1. I overheard those same conversations! I partly blame the way history is taught to children – as you said, it’s dates, events, some geography, with a few names thrown in the mix. It can be terribly dry when the people and culture aren’t brought to life by a good teacher. I wanted to teach history to show how fascinating it could be. But in college I learned that, in order to teach history at the high school level, I had to major in education & minor in history. I was only required to take 5-6 history courses so I decided that wasn’t my cup of tea. How can you teach history with so little background? No wonder it’s boring to teenagers. Fortunately, I did have a couple of good teachers who brought the past to life.

    1. It’s interesting, in comparison, that college teachers take no education courses, just focus on the history. That’s not necessarily a completely good thing (some need help with teaching), but you have to wonder about the switch.

  2. Must say that even though my true(est) love is Biology, i was just as horrified when my fiends said they hated history. The guys loved all the bloody battles and the girls cared about the great romances, but they didn’t appreciate WHY those things happened, or the importance of Edward Jenner.

    And ESPECIALLY when we skimmed over Medieval Wales. it turns out that my history teacher (who loved history just as much as me), was a descendant of the man who was one of the soldiers that killed Prince Llywellyn in the 1282 wars.And everyone was like…whatever.


    1. Oh wow–painful to claim descent from him, but amazing that she could.

      The best history is when people in the past come to life.

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