Monday, September 1, 2014

Lessons from Writing Historical Fiction

by Sarah Holman

I recently published my first true historical fiction, A Different Kind of Courage.  While writing it, I learned a lot of lessons. Some of the lessons, I’ve got to pat myself on the back for getting right the first time. Others… well, others I learned for use in the future. Today, I would like to share some of those lessons I learned with you.

Do your research. ~ I am happy to say that this is one I got right. I spent hours, days, and months checking and rechecking facts, reading books, and looking at old maps. Not everything will make it into the book directly, but it will all help you get a feel for the times you are working in.

Keep track of you research. ~ This is a lesson I learned the hard way. I would know I discovered a fact, read a story, or found a great map, but I couldn’t locate where I found it afterwards. Make sure you make notes of the facts you find and where you found them.

Don’t worry about others. ~ Unfortunately, you will never know everything there is to know about a particular time in history. You will get some people telling you that you made mistakes; sometimes they will be right, and sometimes they will be wrong. Don’t worry about it, just make sure it is the best you can do and ignore the overly picky readers.

Read a lot of primary sources. ~ If at all possible, read things written at the time in history you are researching. I read many letters from and to my main historical character, Dr. Joseph Warren. Primary sources are a valuable resource, especially since everyone has their own slant as to what happened. Be prepared, though, to find out that some historical characters are not the way you always imagined them.

Take your time. ~ I thought that A Different Kind of Courage would take me about four months to write, edit, and publish. It ended up taking over six months. It was frustrating, but I needed that extra time to make the story not just good, but great. Historical fiction often takes a lot more time than you think it will, but that is oaky.

There is nothing like it. ~ I found that A Different Kind of Courage was one of the most satisfying books I had ever written. Helping to give readers a better feeling to places and events of the past was very rewarding.

What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned?

Sarah Holman is a not so typical mid-twenties girl: A homeschool graduate, sister to six awesome siblings, and author of five published books and counting. If there is anything adventuresome about her life, it is because she serves a God with a destiny bigger than anything she could have imagined.


  1. These are great lessons, Sarah! Thanks for sharing. I find historical fiction very rewarding, too. Some of the biggest lessons I have learned in my writing ... that's a tough question. I feel like I've learned so many big lessons! I'll pick the one that seems to have countered my tendencies the most: you don't have to explain everything. Sometimes shorter or simpler is better, and readers don't have to know all that you know. It could distract them from the real story!

    1. So true! There were so many things I wanted to put in that I didn't. Sometimes it is hard being a lover of history and a writer.

  2. You've got great advice, Sarah! Congrats of the first historical novel! 6 months is an amazing feat! I just published my first novel, which also happens to be historic, and it's taken my 2 years!! It's amazing how our journey's and circumstances are all so different and yet God has orchestrated all of it for His glory. Different paths to the same end. :)

    1. A.M. Heath,
      Congratulations on your first novel (I put it on my wish list)! God is so good.

    2. Thanks! And I meant to tell you specifically that your advice to not worry about others helped me breathe a sigh of relief. I had been on edge waiting for someone to point out something that I didn't represent well enough or take me to task over some minor detail. But you were right, no one knows everything and I've done enough research for a solid effort. :)

    3. You're welcome. I am finding that historical fictions has the greatest fans, and the harshest critics. It is exciting, fun, and sometimes hard genre to be in.


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