Saturday, June 4, 2011

Barbara Quick Guest Post: The ABC's of Writing Historical Fiction

Here are my ABCs of writing historical fiction:

Assimilate your research! Read widely, read carefully, immerse yourself in the time and place—and then make everything you’ve learned as much a part of you as your bones and skin. Write your story from the center of that knowledge.

Be your characters! Hear their thoughts, feel their feelings, cry their tears. Anything less will seem false to your readers. Writing fiction is a kind of madness. Don’t be afraid to go to that place, deep inside, where you “hear” your story rather than write it.

Create sufficient space in your life to allow you to do the work. Writing any novel requires an intense degree of hubris, courage and dedication.

There’s really no formula “as easy as ABC” for writing fiction of any kind. Writing is a difficult career path. You’d better love the work, in and of itself, because the work may be your only reward for a long unpublished time.

Think about why you want to write—and what writing does for you. Does it give you joy? Does it give you a sense of relief? If it’s simply torture but you’re filled with ambition anyway—you might want to give the idea some more thought.

I’d recommend writing as a career to anyone who feels they’d probably die if they didn’t write. That was more or less the position I found myself in, when I realized, at age 17 or so, that I was going to be a writer—or, at least, that I was going to try my hardest to be a writer.

Writing is what kept me alive. Lucky for me, I’ve gotten to the point where it also feeds me—spiritually, intellectually and even (once in a while!) literally, when I get a check in the mail for something I’ve written.

Being a novelist isn’t categorically better or worse than any other career you might choose. The trick is to find out if it’s really your career. You may feel confused now about where the desire to be an author is coming from—and whether what you’re looking for will be found in the day in, day out work that’s required.

Are you a writer? Or are you (everyone asks themselves this question!) a wannabe? Your heart already knows the answer—and you’ll find out soon enough, if you get quiet enough to listen carefully.

For all of you who dream of writing—I wish you courage and joy!

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