Historical fiction Writing Contest

Here are a few points that writers of historical fiction might consider as they sit down to work:

1. Fiction = Friction. Regardless of your time period, regardless of all the in-depth research you’ve done, you must remember that you’re writing fiction first, and historical fiction second. In other words, don’t forget that it’s action and conflict that moves the book forward. The historical details enrich the work, but detail for detail’s sakes will sink you.

GIVEAWAY: David is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: DurnKS won.)

Guest column by David R. Gillham, author of CITY OF WOMEN
(Aug. 2012, Putnam), a historical novel which was named an “Amazon Best

2. Avoid history lessons. It’s hard. You know your period of history so well, but you must assume that your reader does not. So, it’s temping to fall into the habit of giving history lectures for a few paragraphs. This can sink you as well. Educating your reader may be necessary, but it works best when the history comes across as part of the action. And when some small history lessons are unavoidable, try to camouflage them.

When I was writing City of Women, I was well aware that most readers would not be scrupulously well informed about the course of the Second World War, especially from the perspective of women in Berlin. So when I did have to indulge in a few paragraphs of historical explanation, I always tried to tie it into the characters in some personal way. I made them react to the history lessons that were discreetly disguised as radio broadcasts. I inserted a line of dialogue to comment on a particular happening, and made sure that it was dialogue that also defined the character. That way readers get the information they need to understand the historical timeline, without a time-out from the action.

3. Using your research. You’ve done your homework, and compiled a mountain of historical detail concerning your time period; details about the fashion of the time, or the food, or social oddities. All very interesting stuff, but possibly more interesting to you than your reader. I, for instance, have an interest in uniforms, and was very meticulous in my description of the decorations worn by an officer on his uniform tunic. But if I had simply had him stand there while I described this medal and that medal, I would have lost most of my readers.

Don’t invite them to start skipping paragraphs. I incorporated the decorations into the action of the book by having some of the common soldiers respond to them. They do an inventory of the officer’s medals, which determines how they interact with the character. Don’t paint historical pictures without making them a part of the drama of your book.

4. Building a Setting. I’ve always found that an effective way to build a setting is not simply to describe the landscape, but also to make the setting part of your character’s journey. Personally, I like to start by using street names, and train lines to do this.

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Q&A

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Scholarships for High School Senior?

Where can I find scholarships, or writing contests. I'll be a senior in high school and I want to get a head start. Any ideas?

Try searching on fastweb.com, you set up a profile and they send you emails with scholarships that fit your description. You can also search the site based on what you want to apply for (academics, music, ethnicity, religion, etc).