Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Writing Historical Fiction

 This comment in a review I received prompted me to blog about the topic:

 White Heart, Lakota Spirit was a delightful break from my normal contemporary reading.  While at times I felt the story was a little slow on the plot it picked itself up fairly quickly. 

So...what classifies a fictional book as historical?  Facts pertinent and true to the period that are included in the story to help the reader visualize and move into scenes that are not modern day, and to do it with ease. Transitions shouldn't be obvious or draw the reader out of the story.  It's not an easy chore, but the secret is peppering enough of these tidbits into the story to make the novel interesting and real without overloading the reader with a history lesson.

Do these added facts slow the pace?  Sometimes.  Readers who enjoy contemporary novels may consider the the facts unnecessary, but in order to meet genre requirements, period information is essential to the story.  I imagine a story based on the old west would be pretty boring without a little knowledge of the history of that era.  I'm going to pick some tidbits from my latest release, White Heart, Lakota Spirit, and demonstrate.

“That bacon sure smells good.” Grace changed the subject. She noticed the tin pot still on the wagon sideboard. “Want me to get the coffee ready for brewing?”

Of course, Grace could just ask the question, but I want the reader to picture the women in the middle of the prairie, traveling in a wagon.

The air inside the tepee grew hot and stagnant with the door flap closed, but Green Eyes sought solace from the sorrow that gripped the entire village. The morning fire lay in a heap of gray ashes, but veiled sunlight filtered through the smoke hole, providing light enough to see. Occasionally, one small ember with the circle of stone sizzled to life, but quickly faded.

This could have been written without such description, but my attempt was to give the reader a glimpse of what the character sensed living in a tepee.

Green Eyes stared at the cocoon-like wrapping holding her father-in-law’s body. Following tradition, his relatives had already dressed him in his finest clothing, put feathers in his hair, and decorated his face. Somewhere beneath the tanned animal skin in which his adorned body was rolled were the prized possessions he’d take with him to the spirit world. The leather thongs holding the skin around him would secure his body to the sacred scaffolding.

 This was probably the truest example of adding historical facts that honestly don't propel the story, yet gives the reader an idea of the Lakota Traditions governing death of a tribal member.  Does it slow the pace a bit.  Sure it does, but without these facts, the story would be just another romance novel set in the old west.

A heart-wrenching wail from the widow interrupted Green Eyes’ pleasant memories of her friend. Singing Sparrow knelt, flailed her arms in the air, and then collapsed. Her forehead rested on the lodge floor. Her piercing cries continued. Smudges of caked blood remained around the self-inflected gashes on her arms. Mourning was a tiring process. The poor woman looked exhausted.
Green eyes understood the custom of cutting one's hair or sacrificing adornment as an expression of grief, but not body mutilation.  To show her own sorrow, she had chosen only to cut the fringe from her dress.  She hoped her shorn doeskin showed respect enough for the dead.

Okay, I think you get the picture of why these facts make a historical story an historical novel.

White Heart, Lakota Spirit is available at Moongypsy Press.  It's soon to be at Amazon, but last check, it isn't appearing yet.  Here's the video:


Jen Black said...

I agree, Ginger. You can't write a historical without some description of how things were. If you do, it becomes contemporary pdq, especially if the dialogue is modern and racy as well. I gave up on a book last wekk for these very reasons

Mirella Sichirollo Patzer said...

Hi Ginger,
Thanks so much for the good words you left on my blog during the contest giveaway.

I think you read Bloodstone Castle before it became The Pendant. I'm giving everyone who entered a free PDF of the book. Can you email me at to get your PDF?

A big hug to you for all your support.

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