Writing History into Fiction

Red sand desert in the UAE

I get it. Writing history into fiction is a super cool idea. But, there’s a tiny problem.

How do I use facts?

Sunset in the UAE desert.
Sunset in the UAE

How do I honor them but have fun?

In my current WIP, I’m covering multiple real-time events. Both current and historic. And let me tell you: I’m definitely doing the awkward dance around balancing fiction with what real people experienced. Which I approach in two different ways.

Don’t freak out: I’m not saying you need a degree in either (although that helps).

But, spoiler alert. I have a degree in the historical period I’m covering: British Mandate Palestine. And I am intimate with details of the Syrian Civil War. So as a scholar, I have the knowledge and resources to ensure that I am appropriately covering complex scenarios.

As a fiction author, I definitely have to go where academics cannot. That’s the beauty and challenge of it. Ensuring that representation is as accurate as possible while enjoying the creative whims of writing.

What you need is in-depth knowledge from reputable sources.

What Aunt Sue said last Saturday doesn’t cut it. Unless Aunt Sue was directly involved, has a degree, or has spent significant time in the place and space you’re writing about. As insightful as they may sound, her opinions are just a place to start. Because history is very much alive and people connected to it care VERY MUCH about how it’s represented in writing.

And please, please, please don’t get your info from television or film. Again, places for ideas to start with. But telling me you got your info from those sources, unless they are purposefully educational or add important artistic insight, won’t really convince me.

Read the leading works on the period. It’s not too hard to identify books you can read that will give you greater insight. It’s a google search away. Talk to *gasp* experts! They’re usually more than happy to give you information if you come with informed questions. And if your know someone who was alive/involved in the period, they’re an excellent resource for enlivening your writing and character development with real-life issues.

Also, have accountability.

Beta readers are invaluable in so many ways, and this is one of them. If you’re writing history into fiction, be sure you’re not unconsciously saying something harmful. Mistakes happen, but can be fixed while you’re drafting. So find some people who are competent in the historic periods you’re discussing. Ask if they feel your writing appropriately represents the real facts while also honoring your creative license.

You’re allowed to have an opinion and reshape events because this is, afterall, fiction. Just be sure you’re doing it in a way that acknowledges and honors what actually happened. If you’re already writing about a historical event, it’s clear that you care about what happened. So translate that into the work that takes your story from novice to excellence.

It’s work, but so worth it. You’ll be even prouder of the end result.

In Courage & Care,

Samantha

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