How can you write what you know if you’re writing historical fiction?
“We grow up being told to “write” what we “know”, but history is the unknown. You have to learn almost everything about a period and the social customs just to get your characters out of their beds, (or off of their skins,) and feed them breakfast.”
~Seven Rules for Writing Historical Fiction By Elizabeth Crook
My dad grew up in Chicago in the 1920’s.
Stirs up images in your mind immediately, doesn’t it? He was a dancer. His sister, Lillian, a model. A model who fell for a gangster.
I’ve been wanting to write my dad’s story for some time now. It’s a story screaming to be told. But sadly, my dad passed away in 1981. His stories stopped when his heart stopped. I was 16; too young and naive to realize how dear those stories would be, how I should have listened more closely, taken notes, recorded his voice. And now, 35 years later, his stories are like faded memories, hiding in my mind, peeking at me from behind all the other memories that have crowded them out. I’ve started this story so many times, always waylaid by the fear that I’m not getting it right.
“Don’t fret the details; let the story be told. Strive for accuracy, but when necessary, make your best informed guess and move on. And if you have to fudge something, well, that’s what the ‘historical note’ at the end of your novel is for!”
This is what I’ve discovered, as I’ve pushed through my fears and, this time, kept on writing.
This story is not a biography of my dad’s life; it’s an intriguing account of how it might have been. It’s a story loosely based on his experiences, and on my own memories of his stories. It’s fiction. Historical fiction. And an amazing story!
Now that I’ve reconciled that in my mind, I’m on a roll! My research has uncovered many fun and interesting facts about life in the 1920’s. I’m having a blast with the dialogue, with dressing my characters, with setting the scenes. How I wish I could transport back in time and see it all in person, but research has proven to be the next best thing. As well as reading other novels set during the same time period.
If you’re thinking of writing historical fiction, these articles will help you get started:
So Fear Not, and Write On!