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Insights About Writing Historical Fiction
Two things drive our lives: Facts and Feelings.
History gives us Facts, staid old historical dates, places, and things.
Humans give us Feelings, emotions, reactions, relationships.
My historical fiction novel, CHARLOTTE: Beauty and Tragedy, is an example. But the book itself is not the point – the genre is. The challenge of taking two names, footnotes to history, and breathing reader-gripping life into them is the key. Charlotte and Pierre were real people. I invite you to substitute your real people for mine, in your context for breathing life into them. Hopefully, these notes will help you with the visualization of your results.
Looking back over the three-hundred-fifty-plus-years from our vantage point today, it takes thought and effort to visualize, much less feel, what Charlotte and Pierre, experienced. Writing their story in historical fiction allowed me the freedom to probe their lives in search of human emotions.
What would they fear, love, desire?
What made them laugh, cry, or hug each other?
What would they say to each other while they shared a view or an experience?
The context of their world is a challenge for us to comprehend. Unless you can view the wilderness, feel the precarious situations, through the eyes of Charlotte, and the ambitions of a maturing Pierre, you will miss the human experience.
So how do we blend the history with the bringing to life of the names and places of 17th-century Quebec to tell the story of Charlotte and Pierre? Through correlations, assumptions, and instinct for human behavior. It's a detective story and the detective's skills of observation are brought to bear.
We do not change history, we do fill in the gaps.
For Charlotte Roussel, the gap is the twenty-two years of her growing up in France. History records hints, like the record of her sailing and arrival in Quebec. Our fiction does not need too many assumptions. Appearance, conversations, feelings, all the things common to every one of the filles des roi.
Pierre is more of a challenge, with a decade's gap between his birth in France to his titles in Quebec. To fill that gap we make educated assumptions, based on research of time, place, and other people of record. History tells that his grandfather, Marin Boucher, is already in Quebec. We assume he would follow. A logical assumption, and there is no historical record that refutes it. Thus we are allowed to assume what a young man like Pierre might do. Pierre's life is an amalgam of the lives of people who were recorded. If them, why not him? Historians conjecture that Pierre came as a young man and lived the life of a coureurs des bois. There's nothing to refute it.
So I hope you can see that writing historical fiction is more than "making up stuff" for real characters to say. To be effective, authentic, the writer needs to study all they can find about the time, other players, other contexts, that might give hints as to where your Charlotte could have fit in – and what she would have felt about where you dropped her.
For me, writing in this genre has added whole new satisfying dimensions to my writing journey.
Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Tom Gauthier