1. Gallowglass

    Gallowglass Contributor Contributor

    May 2, 2009
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    Loch na Seilg, Alba

    Historical Fiction

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Gallowglass, Aug 13, 2011.

    What, in your opinion, is the most important factor in a historical fiction novel's success in a world totally unconcerned with anything historical? What makes a historical novel popular today?

    Looking at some historical or pseudo-historical fiction I've seen that most of it revolves around the battlefield, with a bit of sex here and there for good measure. That's fine by me, I can include both of those things, all relevant to the plot.

    But what else is there? I'm thinking of making it vaguely relevant to the state of the world today, but I'm afraid that will make it satirical at best and political at worst, and neither of those is my intention at all.

    I feel as if I'm missing something: how can a book set in the medieval world be popular today? Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated.
  2. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 19, 2007
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    Massachusetts, USA
    The human condition hasn't changed all that dramatically through recorded history. Livinc conditions improve, technologies advance, but jealousy, greed, love, fear, and how we deal with life and death is substantially the same.

    Exploration of these themes against a historical backdrop can highlight what we often fail to see because of casual familiarity.
  3. Melzaar the Almighty

    Melzaar the Almighty Contributor Contributor

    Aug 28, 2010
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    There isn't a lack of concern for history - the internet is full of whiny nit-picking about what is an isn't historical in films, also something I hear people complain about in conversation face to face. People love history: the genre is booming, and popular history programs and movies and stuff are doing really well.

    What it is is that key events end up romanticised and the myths built on because they make better telling, and all the details only scholars would know shoved to the side. Like Cog said, they make it about human condition things, and only very dry things concentrate on what would accurately have been the biggest concerns. Instead it is the "what sells? Boobs and explosions!" factor.

    A lot of modern historical fiction focusses on bringing up secrets from the past, usually sexy ones, which is largely because the Victorians tidied up History and made the nice version of it we learn in schools, so anyone venturing outside the curriculum for the first time is shocked by all the sex and gore and so on. Women's roles in history has been overlooked/forgotten by historians for ages, so another big thing is bringing up women who were around and making a big deal of what their role might have been.

    From my history degree I found out that mostly what's lacking seems to be outside viewpoints from the basic European history we know (eg: I didn't know about any of the colonisation and empire-building that anyone but the most obvious countries in Europe did (England, Spain and France, with a little bit of Germany thrown in). Write about anyone but them and America, and you should be onto a winner. :p
  4. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Nov 21, 2006
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    Coquille, Oregon
    a good story and intriguing characters will trump the boredom of history for history-resistant readers, imo...
  5. BFGuru

    BFGuru Active Member

    Aug 14, 2011
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    Somewhere in insomiaville
    Pick an audience and write to it would be my suggestion. Do you really feel the need to draw scifi enthusiasts into your story? Could you not simply write for an audience that appreciates a historical romance/adventure/tragedy etc...?

    Not everyone likes histories, but not everyone likes modern writing as well. I personally can't stand the modern genre without a serious mystery to solve and then I can stomach it only if it is J.D. Robbs. However, my daughter can't stand reading historical genres at all and would be perfectly content to thrust herself into a world where nothing exists except Roderick and the wimpy kid.

    I think if you know your audience, it will work itself out.
  6. James Scarborough

    James Scarborough New Member

    May 17, 2011
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    San Jose, Costa Rica (Central America)
    I agree with all of the above comments. However, as someone who's been a life-long, avid reader of history, both non-fiction and fiction, I completely disagree with your comment that we live "in a world totally unconcerned with anything historical".

    You further comment, "Looking at some historical or pseudo-historical fiction I've seen that most of it revolves around the battlefield, with a bit of sex here and there for good measure." I have no idea what sort books you're referring to, but this certainly doesn't represent the sort of historical fiction that interests me and if you believe that this is representative of the majority of historical fiction, I'd guess that you aren't very well read in the genre and probably aren't much of a student of history either.

    If you're interested in setting your novel in the medieval period, my best suggestion is to start doing some reading and research about the period. There are literally thousands of books you could read, many of them "best sellers", which I'm sure would help answer your original question as to what makes historical fiction popular with modern readers. For popular non-fiction, a good starting point might be William Manchester's A World Lit Only By Fire which contains a series of short biographical sketches of key historical figures of late middle ages leading into the Renaissance. For fiction, you might start with Ken Follett's best-selling Pillars of The Earth which chronicles the life and work of a medieval cathedral builder in England and France.
  7. DBTate

    DBTate New Member

    Aug 10, 2011
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    In my opinion, same with every other genre. Well written, memorable, believable, enjoyable characters, an exciting plot, etc etc etc.

    Just your basic story criteria I'd say. Other than that, things like historical accuracy, vivid descriptions, a real 'time machine' kind of writing, that takes you back and plants you right in the middle of the colosseum, the war of the roses, the crusades, or anything interesting in history.

    My favourite historical author is Douglas Jackson. I recently read his book 'Hero of Rome', and absolutely loved it. I finished it in two nights. And to be honest, it was the characters that kept me hooked. They setting was great, it revolved around the revolt of the native people in modern day britain led by their queen Boudicca. Epic battles, heroic and brave men, incredible self sacrifice. But (and I'm almost shamed to say this) the love story involved was one thing that kept me hooked from start to finish. I just had to know what happened.

    So, in summary, history is just a setting, much like the future, a fantasy realm, or a modern day city. Your writing, and everything it entails, it what makes your book 'popular'.

    Hope I helped!

    PS I highly recommend reading Hero of Rome. One of my favourite books of all time.

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