Historical Fiction

Historical Fiction
Natalie Bright
Historical details haunt me. Am I getting this right? Accuracy in the stories I’m writing cause me much concern and angst; I never feel I’ve done enough homework or that I have a full grasp of the time period. Take for example a letter to the editor of the Western Writers of America’s magazine. He wrote to complain about the use of the word “sheriff” in western novels. City councils hired a “marshall”, not a sheriff. For my middle-grade series set in the Wild West, I did research Marshall, who was appointed by the U.S. President at the time. I got that right. The thought to question and research the term ‘Sheriff’ never once crossed my mind. Will the incorrect information aggravate some readers, and since it’s a children’s book, should writers have an even bigger obligation to make certain the historical information is accurate?
I’m experiencing the same doubts when working on the WordsmithSix’s Route 66 anthology. The history is fascinating, and it’s difficult to stop the research and just write. My story is set in the 1930s, and when I read first-hand accounts of the time period, I want to include all of the details that I find enthralling, but the readers may find cumbersome. I guess the best thing to do, is just let the characters decide.

Here’s the blurb for our upcoming anthology, which will be a collection of stories from different time periods but with one common Route 66 location. I think readers will love this collection of stories, and the research has been fun. My story is actually based on the true circumstances of my husband’s great-grandmother and is set in 1930’s Texas.

It started as a dirt path connecting neighbors, communities, states and finally a nation. Route 66 was an overland route traveled by pioneers, migrant farmers, and anyone going west looking for the American dream. From wagon ruts to an asphalt highway, it has connected generations of people.

Join us as we travel through time from the early days and well into the future on the Mother Road.

OUR TIME ON ROUTE 66 is a collection of stories that tell of good times and bad, love and heartache, from the past to beyond tomorrow, and all of them are connected by one stop, the Tower Station, and U-Drop Inn. 


For the Love of History

Middle Grade Mondays

 For the Love of History

by Natalie Bright

If you love history, a fictional story in an historical setting might be something you’d like to tackle. Historical fiction is a time-consuming, massive undertaking. Not only do you need the common elements of story craft, you also need a basic knowledge of the time period. Your details must be accurate or you will get snippy feedback from passionate readers (ask any historical author about the letters and emails they’ve received).

Research-Write Process

Authors confront the research portion of their stories in several different ways. Based on questions to some of my favorite historical writers, here are a few of the processes I’ve learned about.

1) Research the heck out of it first, then power through and write the first draft. Do. Not. Stop. Verification of facts, sensory building, characterization, etc., is done during the editing process.

2) Start with minimal research, character profiles, and develop a basic plot outline. Write, stopping to inquire about specific details as you write. This would be akin to one step forward, three steps back form of world building. By the time you get to the end, you have a fairly polished novel.

3) Total and complete emersion into the time period. You consciously and subconsciously step back into that era.. While you write, you’re developing character profiles, plot elements, intricate details about life, and researching the time period. In your spare time, if not writing, you can rent movies on that time period and read nonfiction books.

Its In the Details

It’s the subtle details about everyday life that brings historical fiction alive for me.  Everything must be true to that time period. For example, in my middle grade western, the heroine’s mother told the town’s sheriff to “give me a call.” When I heard those words as I read them out loud to my critique group, I felt like such an idiot. The only way the Sheriff could have “called” in 1885 is through a mega phone.  Oh wait, were mega phones even invented by 1885? (See what I mean. As if writers aren’t already crazy enough.)

Beware of those every day, subtle details. They’ll sneak up on you. I believe people who lived in other centuries had the same desires, dreams, aggravations that people do today, but their day-to-day realities are not the same as ours.


One element that is critical when writing historical fiction regardless of the process you use, is a timeline.  This can be developed on your computer in a spreadsheet fashion, they can be found online on numerous history sites, or you can make your own with dry eraser board or butcher paper to be taped to your wall for easy reference.

1) Time of day and days of the week specific to your characters as your plot progresses.

2) Print a timeline from a credible website with major events. You might want to thread these events through your plot line. Is your character directly a part of that event?

3) A timeline specific to your setting and a plat or map. What’s going on in the fictional town where your character lives and how is it affected by actual events of the time?

Have you discovered a process that I haven’t mentioned?

What process works best for you?



The Genre Wardrobe


The Genre Wardrobe

 Standing in front of the mirror I adjust the lapel of my jacket. This outfit is a little too professional. I take the jacket off and change from stilettos to loafers. Now it looks a little on the casual side. So I change the slacks for a skirt and put on a pair of boots. Now I look a little flouncy. I change the skirt to jeans, the blouse to a button up shirt and go back to the loafers. Now I look comfortable but fairly dressy. So I change the loafers to sandals and the shirt to a t-shirt.

The point is that changing from one genre to another is as simple as changing the style of outfit. You start with a basic plot story—main character with a goal, arch enemy throwing obstacles at the main character, and a conclusion of win it all or lose it all. To make it look like a certain genre you simply change an element or add a twist.

If you want romance, add attraction that cannot be ignored. If you want science fiction, add outer space and aliens or futuristic elements. If you want horror, add fear and blood. If you want western, horses and cattle and American wilderness are what you need. And if you want fantasy, you need magic. There’s even a genre called “main stream” for stories that don’t fit anywhere else. And it has become popular to mix the genres so that you get things like paranormal romance, psychological thriller, historical fiction.

So here’s your assignment for the week. Take one of your favorite fairy tales and dress it up in a different genre. You should get some surprising results.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

Nandy Ekle