Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Process of Writing a Historical Novel Blog 1

By: Jason Evans


Was your holiday restful? Was it crazy and fun? Did you have to put out a lot of dysfunctional family fires? Regardless of whether or not you enjoyed your holidays, they are now over. Time to get to work on that book. More importantly, it’s time to start working on that book of historical fiction.

Over the course of 2017, I will blog about my process of writing a historical novel. It could be action, romance, mystery or any genre grounded in the history. We will cover ALL the steps required to finish your novel. From concept to research to organization to publication. We will cover it all.

In addition, if I bring up something here that you wish I could discuss further, simply cross over to for further details. On my website, I will go into further details about all the stuff you’ll read here, first. But enough of my shameless self-promotion!


Have you ever watched a television show or film and thought, hey! That’s an interesting character! I want to learn more about her! Or, have you ever read a magazine article and thought, Wow! That was a really fascinating time period! I wonder how they would have reacted to ________________?

These are the beginning of story ideas. Ideas that you can chew on in your head and develop into novels that other people will read.

Stephen King was working a custodial job at his high school when he was asked to help out in the girl’s locker room. He saw the little metal boxes for tampons in the shower stalls and thought, What would happen if a woman had her first period, here, in the shower stall? From that Carrie was born.

Lin-Manuel Miranda was on vacation and read Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, which inspired the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton. Inspiration is all around you.

Maybe you only have a character in your head. A scrappy young heroine, or a grizzled, bitter veteran of a thousand campaign. Maybe you have a setting that excites you, like Mexico City as the U.S. Army is about to attack it in September or 1847. The intrigue! The tension!

Maybe you only have an event in your mind. You see a sad woman all dressed in antique white lace about to put a veil on and walk down an aisle. Why is she sad? Will she marry for duty? Does she wish a loved one was there to see her marry? What’s going on?

Whatever kernel of a story you have, at least it’s a beginning. There is something about that character, that event, or that place that excites you, gives you the flutters, and motivates your story. Now it’s time to tease it out.

Before I go on, let me just say I am a BIG fan of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat trilogy of screen writing books. I will refer to his wisdom often during our writing journey. Here is my first ode to Save the Cat. You gotta have a log line.

A Log line is a simple couple of sentences or short paragraph that describes what your story is about. It is really important you have this down before you go writing, willy-nilly. Let me explain why.

Chiefly, I don’t want you to get excited and go write a kernel of a story. I want you to write the whole blasted thing. Writing your log line will help you create an antagonist, a conflict and a hero’s journey.

But Jason,” you say, “I’m not a planner, I’m a pantser! I don’t organize anything when I write.” My response is this: “I’m just asking you to write 3-5 sentences, so you can anchor your story, give it some depth. I’m not asking you to write a five-page outline with subplots detailed out and 50 pages of written back story. Writing a log line will help focus you as you write the opening chapters of your book. But there’s another reason why you should write your log line.

I want you to go up to people you know and read them the logline. Do they get as excited as you do? Do they think it’s a good idea for a book? If so, you probably have something workable as a story. If you don’t, figure out why. Is it because your ideas aren’t fully formed or is it because you weren’t clear about how awesome your story is?

Both are fixable. But do you want to know the REAL reason you should write a logline?

If you pitch to editors and agents, you’ll have to come up with a logline, anyway. A quick way to give them a synopsis of your book. It is better to do it now, before it’s written, then to do what I did and write it afterward.

See, I was so proud that I had written a book. So proud of my dialogue, my subplots, and my twists, that I blathered on about the characters and the challenges they faced. I talked about the minor characters, the historical events it surrounds, and everything but the conflict, the heroes, and the road they walked.

Don’t be like me.

If you write the logline now, then it will act like a compass, a beacon, that will guide you back to your book’s true purpose. If you feel like what you’re writing is true to your logline, but you just don’t like it, then change your logline to better reflect the story you want!

A logline should have the following:

An adjective to describe the protagonist
An adjective to describe the antagonist
A compelling goal we identify with as human beings
It should offer the most conflict in the situation
Show the protagonist has the longest way to go emotionally.  

Proud Farmer’s daughter (adjectives describing protagonist) Elizabeth mean girl Sue always picking on her. (adjective describing antagonist,) But the Founders Day picnic is coming up and Elizabeth has the fastest horse in the county. She’ll show Sue, she’ll show everyone when she wins the blue ribbon. (Compelling goal: vindication, revenge, respect of peers,) There’s only one problem, Elizabeth’s father won’t let her compete. (Most conflict: How can I win if Pa won’t let me?) He says such competitiveness is sinful pride, that Elizabeth should love her enemies. But Dad doesn’t understand. Will Elizabeth defy her father to save her pride, or allow Sue to humiliate her again? While Elizabeth chooses, she learns what true respect and love really are.
I hope this has been helpful. Next month, we’ll talk about organizing, shaping and sanding out your story so all your characters have depth, your conflicts are intense and the stakes are high.

Come over to my site at if you want to learn more about the logline and how to twist your story concept so it’s more compelling. There, I’ll also explain how I got inspired to write my first unpublished novel, The Gallowglass.

About the Author:  Jason Evans always wanted to be a writer, he just didn't know it. He grew up in Pasadena, California, in the 1980s where he watched way too much television, but was introduced to literature by his grandfather and his favorite middle school and high school teachers. He wasted his youth working at the So Cal Renaissance Faire (a dangerous place because it’s the gateway drug to other historical costumes,). In his leisure time he’s an educator, a writer, and a bon vivant. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara, with degrees in History & Renaissance Studies, a teaching credentials from CSU Los Angeles, as well as a graduate degree from the University of Colorado, Denver. He currently resides in Denver with his wife, the fetching Mrs. Evans, their three dogs and a mischievous cat who calls him his thrall. 

You can visit Jason at his website at
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Follow him on Twitter @evans_writer