Using History In Our Fiction

21 Nov

odds and ends in Feb 2012 007And here we are; another Thursday is upon us and that means another lesson or two about writing.

Since I am writing a novel right now that incorporates a lot of history, I thought we would talk about historical fiction and a writer’s freedom regarding history.

First a quote to get us started.


The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.
Mark Twain

I’m sure that applies in some way.  LOL

When writing historical fiction, the key word to pay attention to is fiction.  Our primary goal is to tell a good story.  There mere fact that our novel or story is fiction means we have some freedom with facts.  Yes, we can stay true to actual events that happened, but we have great room to stretch out in and move about in when writing our story.

I have no problem at all saying that I met Bill Gates in my novel.  I’m sure Mr. Gates won’t mind, and I in no way am altering the “truth” about history when I do that.  Considering the fact that much of written history is subjectively written leaves me feeling fine with my creative license.

Again, and I can’t stress this enough, our number one goal when writing fiction is to tell a great story.  Keep that in mind while you write and don’t shackle yourself with concerns over the “truth” about history.


Remember that there is a huge difference between fiction and fantasy; this is a point worth considering if you write historical fiction.  My goal in historical fiction is not to change history; my goal is to use history as a backdrop for my story.

If you are writing fantasy then considerations about factual history can be tossed aside; not so with historical fiction.  I research before I write about an event in my novel. I want to stay true to actual events that happened.  It is a distinction worth noting and remembering.


If you are a Civil War buff then pick up a book by Bruce Catton.  He won a Pulitzer for his historical fiction about that war and he is a master at that genre…or he was…he’s dead. J


I thought I would share a blog from another friend of mine today.  Her name is Bobbi and she has a “favorite recipe” blog that is quite interesting.  Here it is.


What do you see? How does it make you feel? Remember when we are writing that feelings are a strong appeal for readers.  Tap into their feelings and you will have a follower for life.


How are you doing with your novel?  Making progress?  I can tell you my process if that is any help.  I basically write the bare bones of my novel on the first writing. When that is done I go back and fill in. I expand on character descriptions and scenes, and I also fill in with lengthier pontifications about points I feel are important.

I do this because I don’t like interrupting the flow of the story on that first write.  Once the entire story is told, then I don’t have to worry so much about the rhythm of the story while I backfill areas that need more attention.

I hope that helps. Have a great day y’all and I’ll be back with more tips next Tuesday.


“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


10 Responses to “Using History In Our Fiction”

  1. Janine Huldie November 21, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    I never did try my hand at historical fiction, but sounds like you are doing a bang up job and can’t wait to read your novel when you do finish, edit and hit the publish button. Happy Thursday my friend once again!! 🙂

  2. Liz November 21, 2013 at 8:39 pm #

    I think it was NPR that interviewed David Sedaris and asked him if all of his stories were true. He answered, “True enough”. He’s an essayist, not an historical fiction writer, but I like that story and I’m determined to make it fit here.

  3. pictimilitude November 22, 2013 at 1:27 am #

    Haha, I don’t know exactly what to call mine…I’m going off a “legend” and using some historical data to fill in some facts, but wow…it does border a little on the fantastical, haha. Eh, well…it’s all in good fun. 🙂

  4. ruchira November 22, 2013 at 1:42 am #

    I was never good at history and dates thus, to weave a story out of history will be a challenge for me.

    good luck bill 🙂

  5. Shauna L Bowling November 23, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    Bill, your method of writing a novel is interesting; one I’ll have to keep in mind even for short stories. I get hung up on the details as I go. Filling in (during the proof process?) is a good idea and one that doesn’t disrupt the writing process. In fact, it makes sense. The proof exercise always means editing/re-writing anyway, so why not use that time to fill in the blanks, so to speak?

    • Billybuc November 23, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

      Well, Sha, it works for me. I know a lot of writers who fill in as they go….Rolly for one….but I need the story out there first for my own peace of mind. 🙂

  6. Melanie Chisnall November 24, 2013 at 11:23 am #

    That sounds like a great way to start a novel… with the bare bones. I haven’t started writing mine yet, but after almost a month, I’m 95% sure I’ve got the story idea I want now and the two main characters. How do you start a bare bones story, Bill? Do you write the beginning and end, or each chapter? Have a wonderful Sunday! 🙂

    • Bill November 24, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

      Good afternoon Mel! Bare bones…I have the outline in my head. I just write the basic story, and then when I am done I go back and fill in character descriptions, scene descriptions, and any fillers that I feel it needs. For me it is important to allow the creative juices to flow all through the story until it is done; then I can go back and do the more technical fill-ins. 🙂

      • Melanie Chisnalle November 27, 2013 at 12:19 pm #

        Sounds like a good plan Bill, thanks for sharing it! I’m still in the deciding/dreaming/planning stage… but it’s getting there. So slowly. Patience, patience, patience, I keep telling myself. But I will not rush this one. I’ll give your method a try as soon as I’m ready, it sounds like a winning method 🙂

      • Billybuc November 27, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

        Mel, we have to find the method that works for us. This is how I am comfortable writing….others have a different path. Best wishes to you my friend, and as always thank you.

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