Welcome to Adventures in Historical Fiction. This is my first blog—a place where writers and aspiring writers, as well as readers, can explore the joys and challenges of writing historical fiction. This blog is open to all, regardless of fiction genre preferences, to contribute and comment on these topics. There are, after all, more that we have in common as fiction writers than separate us. Plus, history, whether suggested or explicitly presented, is the root of all stories.
Here, we can share what we have learned from our journeys in fiction writing and publishing, what inspires us, and what helps us to “keep on keepin’ on” in crafting historical fiction. My ultimate wish is that, through honing our craft and inviting new writers to create stories framed by history, we will encourage more writer and readers to delve into historical fiction.
Why does it matter that the percentage of readers devoted to the historical fiction genre remains in the single digits among all fiction readers?
Today, more than ever in our uncertain world, we need to imagine solutions. By peering into the past, we can see where we humans faced difficulties that were similar to those dogging us now, whether on the individual level or the global. Historical fiction is an arena, something like a laboratory for readers, that can entertain people while helping them observe ways to cope and imagine what we can do to improve our situation(s). Perhaps the reader will discover a truth that can untangle a personal or societal dilemma. Each page turned through a historical novel can bring greater awareness that “what is past is prologue.” Our curiosity can lead us to wisdom left in the time-polished tread marks of those who climbed the winding stairs before us.
Besides, historical fiction is fun. Writing it is a blessing to be savored, even when frustrated by the challenges of creating historical fiction. Research is hard and time-consuming. Writing and re-writing is harder. Those may be trite observations, and they are true—but the satisfaction and discoveries are great!
Since there can be no historical fiction without the challenge of writing, let’s begin our Adventures in Historical Fiction by asking a basic but crucial question. Is it one that we face whether we want to write, try to write, or continue to edit our work. What is writer’s block? And what to do when its rude arse won’t budge off of you?
That mind-freezing self-doubt sometimes feels like it’s the fault of that awkward pen tilting between your fingers. It refuses to translate your inspiration into that magically compelling, you-can-taste-the-atmosphere first sentence of your story. Or it’s that blasted bullying cursor, blinking on your digital screen, mocking you by skipping in place, solitary within its stark white desert. I can relate. My writing desk is one of my closest confidants, but with friends like that….
I found—while I wrote, re-wrote, and re-re-wrote my debut novel before publishing it—ways to deal with my writer’s block. I learned that the negative vibes of writer’s block can be used against it, like a judo wrestler redirecting her opponent’s energy to score a point. I also learned that how I deal with writer’s block has as many benefits for developing the story and it has for reinventing and revising my story.
One tactic that helps me to begin writing is to not worry (at first) about writing prose—especially not about crafting the first sentence of the actual story. Instead, I write an idea about the main plot, or about my main character or any character that is sitting before me and insists on being seen and heard. I write the ideas as if I am talking to myself about the story. Those notion populate my first page which, as the list of ideas grow, isn’t blank anymore. So much for the obnoxious blinking cursor.
Sometimes a line or two of dialogue will pop into my head. The words may be make sense at the time, or they may be rubbish. But I do not judge it then. I remind myself that I am not trying to write prose (yet). If the arc of my story is not burning into clarity, like a polaroid picture, I don’t worry about that either (again: just yet). Rather, I am getting to know my characters and the boundaries of the story I want to tell. The characters are auditioning for me. If I imagine asking them questions and I can hear their answers, I note those, too. This is, or should be, fun. This is preparation, not “work.” I am not bothered that I am not producing a solid draft. I am body-surfing, curious about the current’s pull and the water temperature of the world I am imagining.
Does this tactic work for you? If you try it, I’d like to know what you think of it.
But what to do if the story ideas are not coming at all? Your will to write is there but the story boundaries are still invisible? No character sits beside you to talk or shows you what they are doing? I’ll share ideas about that subject in my next blog post. And, no, it involves neither drugs nor alcohol, …nor scéances. (But if you’ve tried the latter, I’d be curious if that worked for you.)
What do you think? Please comment. And if you have advice to share about what has worked for you in besting your writer’s block, please share. Or tell me, what do you suppose would work? Every writer finds her or his own technique and can learn from others in order to switch and freshen the approach, no matter the beginning, middle, or steady-sailing stage of one’s adventure in historical fiction.
If you would like to contribute a few words to a post on Adventures in Historical Fiction, don’t be shy. I’d love to hear from you!
Wishing you happy writing and good reading.
J. A. (Jen) Nelson