Saturday, 22 May 2010

Book Review: The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction

I've decided to review some of the books I have to do with writing. I have recently got rid of some writing books - sold on eBay or packed off to the charity shop - but I thought that I would review some of the ones I have kept and the ones I haven't read sometime in the future.

So first up is a book that I have recently finished reading:

The Art and Craft of Historical Fiction by James Alexander Thom

The novel that I am working on is a historical mystery so I thought that this book would be good to read.
James Alexander Thom has written a number of American frontier books, that are heavily researched. This is reflected in The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction where his advice on research draws heavily on examples from his own experiences.
There were some chapters that I feel didn't really apply to me whereas other chapters I found quite useful.

One of the chapters that didn't really apply to me was the chapter that dealt with genealogy. One of the main assumptions of this book is that, although fiction, you are writing about real people. The vast majority of my characters are fictional. I am drawing on some real life people from the period that I am looking at, however if any completely real people do appear it will only be very briefly.

There are also parts of the book that focuses on 'facts' that were actually made-up and are now seen to be true.

I did find a lot of good advice in this books though. The chapters I found the most useful were Songs, Smells, and Sensations, and How Not to Write Historical Fiction. These chapters gave advice on cliches, avoiding anachronisms, describing sounds and smells.
There are also chapters on research, credibility and 'modifying the truth'.

This book has helped me with the planning of my novel. Originally I was going to have a major event happen before the second main character appeared. However after reading this book and its advice on starting in the action or with an event, rather than describing the scene too much, I have decided to start as though the event has already happened and the second main character is already involved.

Overall I like this book though I think that some of its advice is directed more at writers whose characters are all real historical figures. A good book to have although trying to read it straight through is a little challenging.


Joanne Fox said...

I have book that I've found quite useful on this subject. It's 'Writing Historical Fiction' by Marina Oliver. I won it in a Writing Magazine competition actually!

Chippy said...

I have that book you are talking about - I haven't read it yet though. I have a pile of books that are research/writing and another pile of books that are ones I want to read...for leisure. The leisure pile is winning in both height and the amount of them that are actually getting read!