28 July 2013, Writing Ideas - Writing Historical Fiction, part 10 Practicum
Announcement: My novels Sister of Light and Sister of Darkness are about to be published. I write this blog about 2 months prior to its publication. I just heard that the proofs will be here soon--likely before the end of the week. My publisher also wants to put the entire set of novels based on Aegypt on contract--that's 5 more novels for 8 total. They also want to put my other novels on contract. The release schedule should be one novel every 2 months. I'll keep you updated.
Introduction: I wrote the novel Aksinya: Enchantment and the Daemon. This was my 21st novel and through this blog, I gave you the entire novel in installments that included commentary on the writing. In the commentary, in addition to other general information on writing, I explained, how the novel was constructed, the metaphors and symbols in it, the writing techniques and tricks I used, and the way I built the scenes. You can look back through this blog and read the entire novel beginning with http://www.pilotlion.blogspot.com/2010/10/new-novel-part-3-girl-and-demon.html.
I'm using this novel as an example of how I produce, market, and eventually (we hope) get a novel published. I'll keep you informed along the way.
The four basic rules I employ when writing:
1. Don't confuse your readers.
2. Entertain your readers.
3. Ground your readers in the writing.
4. Don't show (or tell) everything.
5. Immerse yourself in the world of your writing.
One of the readers of this blog asked these questions after reading the previous
posts. He kindly allowed me to quote him and answer the questions here. I
think this will be very helpful. I will give my answers in italics to set them
"Enjoyed your 'Zen of Writing'; particularly the (5) rules thus far.
Curious, how many primary sources, and how strictly do you adhere to primary
source docs, when developing story outline & details? Almost exclusively
where they exist. For example, my yet unpublished Civil War/Civil Rights novel
Antebellum http://www.antebellumnovel.com/, is
almost completely based in letters and correspondence from two periods 1860 to
1865 and 1965. I supplemented it with personal accounts of soldiers from
the 1860s. Only to get the locations and the architecture right did I use
modern information and other tertiary source documents. The elements of the
secondary source documents are very strong in the novel as well. I actually
wove them into the storyline. And, how much 'knowledge' do you
assume your audience has, when you're trying to provide sufficient
historic context, events, culture,etc, to help bring out both the historic,
cultural & descriptive authenticity (& consistency) in your writing?
I actually assume my readers know nothing about the period, culture, and
times. I think this is obvious in Centurion http://www.centurionnovel.com/ where I
lead the reader just as I lead Abenadar into the knowledge of the Legions. In
that book, I had a convenient means to introduce the readers--the main character
was learning along with them. Plus, the contrast between Abenadar's culture and
the culture of the Romans made both easy to convey--it gave a reason to explain
them. In spite of this, many times only the details of a culture are shown, but
when they are important, they are explained--they are necessary to be explained
so you don't confuse your readers (one of the rules).
explained much of this above, but I will answer in the context of the example
below, because I think it is a good one and helpful. For example, let's
say, you're writing a military adventure, in sub-Roman Britain, early fifth
century, detailing the Romans leaving Britain. Would you assume, the reader is a
student of Roman history, or not? Not at all. And, if not, how would
you go about communicating the historic context, in a subtle but cohesive
manner? For example, let's say, your goal is to communicate the
1. The Roman Empire legions are leaving Britain because the
Romans needed troops to face increasing barbarian attacks on the Rhine and
Danubian. Most likely a conversation between two characters who would be in
the know. I could also use a letter to or from a major character. Even more
exciting a battle scene that transitions to an interrogation of a Roman or a
Germanic soldier and results in a letter requesting more troops in
2. Say, you hint at signs of decay in Roman rule in
Britain. And, you're in the forth quarter of 4th century; urban and villa life
had grown less intense; decline of military Roman culture, maybe hint at rarity
of Roman coins, culture, etc. (minted past 402 AD. Have the lady of a house
or a slave make a comment about the fact the markets won't take Roman coins any
more--perhaps part of a scene in the marketplace. Or show the contempt the
Britons have in the marketplace for a Roman slave, children, or
What literary vehicle or scene, would you use, to set up such
a story? That depends on the plot and the theme. Would you choose a
high ranking Roman soldier in a Garrison, in formal military correspondence w/
his Superiors in Rome, communicating the state of affairs, the Roman strategy,
garrison efforts, difficulty at obtaining supplies, etc; or, avoid giving
(broad) historic context, and instead, use private dialogue w/ a peer at the
military garrison to (simply) hint at decay in Roman rule, or maybe, private
letter back home to wife, to convey the above? The choice of theme and plot
determines specifically these details. For example, if I was writing about the
redemption of the Britons, I would choose a young man who had lost everything
to the Romans and wanted to remove them from his land. The plot might be one
where he learns to pity the Romans more than hate them--that would drive the
entire plot. On the other hand, if I wanted the theme to be about the Britons'
lack of culture and society, I might pick a Roman and his Briton bride whose
lives would contrast as he had to leave her.
And, however you do it,
precisely how do you outline, map or track the storyline 'facts' that are being
revealed, over various pages of the novel, to confirm you've provided sufficient
info, and ensure both historic & storyline consistency? For the
non-historical parts, my prepub readers are critical. Stated another way,
what writing tools (spreadsheets, word documents, reader boards, white boards,
character or journey maps) might you use, to track how well you are developing
or convey (authentic) info to the reader in the most precise, but subtle
manner...ie. "immersing yourself in the world you're creating"? You can see
some of the examples of the documents I use in the secret pages for each book on
my website http://www.ldalford.com/. In
fact, many of them have pictures and data that I mined for the novels in them
and that I hope will be in the final published books. These aren't
comprehensive, but they are what I put up from my base files. I could put up
Megs of data if I were to put up the whole of the info and notes from one
novel. I use four basic files to keep everything straight:
file of the names, places, descriptions, and basic knowledge from the time.
This includes the characters I made up as well.
2. A file of in
depth knowledge I mined and need for parts of the novel. Includes quotes and
sections of books as well as pictures, maps, and charts.
3. A file
of notes for inconsistencies and issues that need to be addressed in the novel.
Especially those further on.
4. An outline of the scenes in the
I hope this answers these questions in sufficient detail.
In the next post, I will give some examples from my books.
For more information, you can visit my author site www.ldalford.com/, and my individual novel websites: http://www.aegyptnovel.com/, http://www.centurionnovel.com, www.thesecondmission.com/, http://www.theendofhonor.com/, thefoxshonor, aseasonofhonor.