Thursday, January 29, 2009

Living History

How does an author make history come alive for young readers? To make stories, set back in times that may seem remote and disconnected to today, exciting reads?

I recently attended a literary seminar where the topic was historical fiction. Well-known writers debated the definitions of books of historical fiction, novels and straight history. There were various opinions as to how free authors can or should be in historical fiction with the lives, words and actions of real historical figures, people who have lived and acted on the world stage. To make the story work as a novel, to enhance plot or to make the characters more believable, does the author have a little leeway with actual known facts or is it acceptable for the writer to expand on the actual facts to make a more exciting or gripping story?

There was great discussion and difference of opinion.

As a writer of historical fiction for children I found the discussions fascinating as well-known authors discussed their craft. Frequently there aren't enough letters, diaries, audio tapes, etc. to reconstruct sufficient dialogue to make a story work, so the writer has to improvise. But the conscientious author will try to make the story ring with an improvised story line and dialogue that is as close as possible to the historical figures' personalities, the truth of their characters and the events in which they were involved.

It was fun to see this interplay at the seminar and exciting to attempt to write captivating and accurate stories of history for young people.


  1. Eileen:

    I love reading historical fiction and totally admire the research skills and dedication of writers who undertake this genre. The attention to detail, the importance of getting the setting just right--when it all comes together, it's quite amazing.

    So are there any specifics you can share from this lecture? Any great quotes from one of these well known authors that we can add to our quote list?

  2. I've always loved historical fiction. Fiction being the operative word.

  3. Writing engaging historical fiction seems so challenging. I am always in awe of someone who can make a real historical figure leap off the page in a more human way, than say in a "just the facts" history book kind of way.

  4. Well historical fiction....
    You all know how I feel about it. A little history, a little imagination. What a great mix.