Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Writing Your Historical Novel: Blog Four

Editor's Note: Jason Evan's expertise is history, but this article, as in his past articles for Pikes Peak Writers, can be helpful to writers in every genre. Good information for all to consider.

By Jason Evans

Happy Spring! Welcome back!

OK, we’ve talked about fleshing out your ideas. We’ve gone over how to start your research. We have even addressed how to structure your story. This month we’re going to talk about actually writing your story down!

Finally. It’s about time this guy talks about the stuff I wanna know! Why didn’t he do this before?

Why? Because my first WIP was a freakin’ train wreck, that’s why! I did everything wrong. I wanted a Lord of the Rings style adventure, and ended up with Anne of Green Gables with sword fights. I made every mistake. Grammar, point of view, too many compound sentences, etc. I don’t want you to go through that, gentle reader.

Since that awful first manuscript, I have learned that the more prep I do on the front end, the less re-writing I’ll have to do on the back end. So I write a lot about organization, structure and research. The benefit of this approach is so that you don’t have to re-write entire sections of your book. Doing the research beforehand prevents you from making major mistakes when you write.

OK, rant over. Here are some suggestions you might want to do right before you begin writing.

Create a Timeline of Historical Events

In historical fiction, you are usually writing about fictional characters experiencing a real world event, or you’re writing a fiction story about historical characters experiencing a real world event. That event can be a political election, a basketball tournament, the opening of a frontier, or a war. There really isn’t any limitation to what you can write. However, if you mess up the timeline, your book will suffer and people will taunt you.

Example: Let’s say you’re writing a love story about Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne. He met Anne in December of 1927, after his famous flight in Mexico City. If you have them meeting again on Valentine’s Day, 1928, say in New Jersey, you’d better make sure he was actually in New Jersey in February! Again, people will criticize you.

Get a Good Book on Grammar

Listen, English is a messed up language. There is no shame in not knowing all the rules. I read an article once indicating English started as an Anglo-Saxon language that Viking settlers spoke poorly (because they didn’t care.) Add some Latin words from the Roman invasion of Britain. Add some more Latin words, along with some French with the Norman invasion, then sprinkle in some Spanish, Italian (ghetto Latin,) Hindi, Arabic & other words, & you’ve got a mess on your hands.

Get a good book of grammar to help you out. If you can, get a good book on fiction writing, too. It will save you time in the end.

Stick to One Point of View

I know Book series like A Song of Ice and Fire, have made multiple points of view stories very popular recently. However, Point of View can be really hard for beginning authors. (I know it was for me.)  My suggestion is to limit the point of view to one character. Let the reader follow that person on a journey. Give your readers a glimpse of what brings that character joy, what makes them happy, or what scares them.

It doesn’t mean you can’t have awesome supporting characters, you just won’t be able to hear their thoughts. One of my favorite characters in A Song of Ice and Fire is Stannis Baratheon and he never gets a point of view chapter.

Find a good craft book on the subject. I suggest Rivet your Readers with Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson. It’s a little booklet with great activities. Its only $5.99 on Amazon.

Accept that Your Writing will have Multiple Drafts

Local Denver area author Stant Litore (who will be attending the Pikes Peak Writers Conference) once told me “Writers write. Professional writers rewrite.” I have found this to be true.

Know that the effort you put out for your first WIP will not be done when you write “The End.”

You’re going to have to rewrite some parts. (Which we will cover in later blogs) You’re going to have to make those fight scenes clearer. You’re going to have to drop more hints earlier in your book so your readers don’t feel cheated when they find out the gardener was the killer.

In my book, The Gallowglass, there is a love triangle between my protagonist, Philip, and a woman trying to get through a war zone to see her dying husband, as well as a camp follower who sees my protagonist as a meal ticket. (Philip doesn’t see it, though.) The camp follower is named Colleen.

The first time you meet Colleen, she is seducing Philip in his army tent. Fionualla, (She’s Irish) stumbles upon the two as they’re disrobing.

After writing 104,000 words I realized as I was reading it, that Colleen was not sympathetic at all. She was a stereotype: The voluptuous Bad Girl, the Temptress. I didn’t want that, so I added a couple of scenes showing Philip’s sincere affection for Colleen and her potential to be an ingĂ©nue. Those scenes were a big part of my rewrite.

Perhaps you want to add a subplot, or give the villain more face time. It is in the rewriting where the richness and fullness of your book comes through. So don’t be afraid to write more.

Rewriting is part of the process. Think of it like this.

Draft One: The Dream Draft. Here you can experiment with any plots and subplots you want. Be as experimental as you want!

Draft Two: Plot, Arc, Structure, & Conflict. After you’ve written and read your WIP, go back and tighten those elements of your story that strengthen the plot, the character arcs, the structure and the conflict of your story. Things have to be clear and concise.

Draft Three: The History Draft. All that awesome historical research you did? The information on shoe colors and blouse construction. The stuff on horses and metallurgy, put it in now. If your characters went to an historical building, one you don’t know much about, put those descriptions in here.


I once wasted two days researching Renaissance Irish Women’s headgear. Yes. I admit that. Don’t be me. Put all your historical research in, the big, the small, in Draft three.

Draft Four: The Polished Draft. This is where you make the final changes, check grammar, and go over the sticky points in your characters arcs.

Congrats, You’re Done!

I sincerely hope this has been helpful. I know it’s a lot to do and think about. But, if you do the work, then you’ll be able to sit down in front of your favorite writing program and not worry about everything else. You won’t get sidetracked and you won’t go down a rabbit hole. You will be able to sit down and write your story with a clear conscience.

If it seems daunting, or overwhelming, remember what Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo said, “The World Needs Your Novel.”

If you find writing itself a struggle, if the motivation to write hamstrings your goal of writing a book, then check out my blog on my website. I’ve got some pretty good suggestions for you there.

Next month we’ll talk about how to use all that awesome research you’ve acquired and why you need beta-readers.

Enjoy your Spring and Happy Easter!

Read more about Jason’s writing life at
Follow him on Twitter @evans_writer

Or, like his Facebook Author Page at Jason Henry Evans

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. 

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