Skip to main content

Making use of history in fiction

I wrote on my reading blog last week about historical fiction and how historically accurate it should be. Some writers and readers think that it should be akin to academic research in accuracy, others that the story always comes first.

There are other ways to use historical facts in fiction than writing historical fiction. I like to add little details every now and then to give my characters some depth. My characters are long-living vampires and shape-shifters who have witnessed centuries of history first hand. It would be odd if that didn’t show somehow. One of my pet peeves is characters who don’t have personal history beyond the book, and it’s doubly annoying if the character has lived for centuries.

For example, the hero in Warrior’s Heart, Jasper Grayson, has fought in the Battle of Killiecrankie. It took place in July 1689 between Highland Scottish clans who supported King James VII of Scotland/James II of England, and troops who supported King William of Orange. Jasper fought for William.

The importance of the battle for my book isn’t in details or historical accuracy. It has personal importance for the hero, because he was wounded there and it changed the course of his life. It’s a random battle, chosen because it fit the timeline, and I didn’t burden the book with everything I learned about it. In romantic fiction like my Two-Natured London series, there isn’t that much room for details anyway.

The sites of Jack the Ripper's murders
In the upcoming book, Her Warrior for Eternity, I added a much better known historical detail, Jack the Ripper. It came about rather accidentally and is only an aside to the story. It’s not necessarily needed, but it gives the story some colour.

Jack the Ripper, or the Whitechapel Murderer, is the name given to a serial killer who killed women in the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. The connection to my book is more superficial than actual. There is a serial killer afoot in my book who kills women and leaves the bodies all over the City, a district adjoining Whitechapel, and some of the action happens on the historical sites of those murders. At least, as far as I was able to determine; the map of London has changed a little since those days. I don’t work the details of Jack’s murders into my story, nor are the murders meant to resemble each other.

Again, the details aren’t important. The name is enough. Readers will make the connection the same way the characters do in the book. Hopefully it will give the readers a notion that the hero, Jeremy Grayson – who, by the way, fought in the Battle of Killiecrankie too – has lived for centuries, not merely existed.

The use of history doesn’t have to be exhaustive – and exhausting – list of dates. Sprinkling it here and there is sufficient to give the characters a past and readers a notion that the story doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

My #worldcon75 experience

Here’s the long overdue report from my day at the WorldCon 75, my first ever time attending. The event was held on August 9-13 in my home country, Finland, so it was a once in a life-time chance to experience it with a minimum trouble. I originally thought to attend the entire five days, but life intervened in the form of work, and so I could only attend on Saturday. I tried to make the most of it by planning a full day.

I arrived at the conference centre about fifteen minutes after the doors opened at nine in the morning, and the queue was already at least fifty metres long. It caused me a few palpitations until I figured it was the line for people who hadn’t purchased their day passes in advance. I had, so I just walked past, trying not to look gleeful. Half an hour later I felt bad for all those people when it was announced that the day was sold out, which left most of them outside. The queue for pre-purchased passes was three persons long, the shortest line for me the entire day. I…

Reading recap: August

August was my worst reading month so far and I only managed to finish two books. I have no excuses other than that I was busy working. I did start two more books, but I didn’t manage to finish them in August. And even though I read eight books in July, I’m now two books behind the schedule in my reading challenge of fifty-five books. I’ll have to step up. As has been my habit throughout the year, one book was from my reading list and the other wasn’t.
First book was Ride the Storm by Karen Chance, the long-awaited next chapter in her Cassandra Palmer urban fantasy series of time-travelling Pythia and her entourage of vampires, demons and mages. One vampire and one mage in particular. As always, it was a wild romp through space and time – at times a bit too wild. The first part of the book was constant tumbling from crisis to battle and back with no breathers or plot development in between, as if the author was afraid that the reader will get bored if something earth-shattering isn’t co…

Working with the editor: a case study

Editing has been on my mind lately, as I’ve been preparing Tracy Hayes, P.I. with the Eye for publishing. As a happy coincidence, Delilah S. Dawson had a lengthytweet chain about the topic too, prompted by her annoyance with aspiring authors unwilling to make changes that editors suggest to their books. Her response, in short, was that no author escapes the changes, so you’d better get used to them from the start. Her notes are useful to read in full.

She was speaking from the point of view of a traditionally published author who has more than one set of editors making suggestions and demands, all of which strive to make the book as good as possible. She doesn’t claim it’s easy to let other people to have their say, but that it’s necessary.
Listening to one’s editor is even more crucial for self-publishing authors, as we lack the gatekeepers of traditional publishing. If you’re lucky, you find one who understands your writing, and who isn’t afraid to tell you how you can improve it. If …