Tuesday, November 27, 2012

On Writing Historical Fiction

My half-done NaNo novel is historical fiction.  It's set in a coal town in Virginia in the Appalachian Mountains in 1933. 

I suspected it was going to turn into a dark comedy because that's how my mind is skewed.  But I wrote the first half straight - with quirky characters but no funny, at least no laugh-out-loud-because-that-is-so-wrong funny.  I was surprised how much I loved writing it and how easily it poured out of me. 

Maybe historical fiction will be my genre for the long haul.  Or maybe I'll be one of those split-personality authors and write one genre with a pen name and another with my real name. 

The funny thing is that this novel, which is the last in the series but the first one I'm writing, might be mistaken for Christian fiction.  The whole of the series put together isn't - the overall theme is the struggle to find hope and carry on when there is no chance the characters' lives will get better.   Many of my characters lean on religion because there's nothing else to lean on, and there's no effect of this reliance except in the last novel and the first - where the ministers leave their pulpits and actually help people. 

But I digress....

As I mentioned in my last post, I decided to stop mid-novel instead of pushing through to 50K words this month.  One of my many reasons/excuses is I have more research to do for the middle section.  I need to figure out if and precisely how a car would make it over the mountain ridge from nort-central Tennessee to Virginia in 1933 and how long that would take.  I think they would need to travel north through Kentucky to a gap in the mountains, cross over, and then go south along the mountain ridge on the other side.  The US interstate highway system was in its infancy during that time.  I'm having a hard time finding a historical map of roads in 1933.  I may need to make it up based on my best guess, but I'd kind of like to get it right.

Because I'm a little sick of all of my Me, Me, Me! posts lately, I think my next few posts will be about things I learned while I was doing research. 

Today I must clean up my work area, which was completely trashed by my NaNoWriMo writing frenzy.  Tomorrow I will jump back in.


  1. You want to get it right the first time. Otherwise you'd be revising the heck out of it, and that's no fun.

  2. Your novel sounds ambitious! I've been writing tech-oriented stuff, and I loved doing all the researchy bits for that, sometimes more than then writing itself. Have fun!

  3. I love historical fiction so your novel sounds wonderful to me. I love the Appalachian setting. I'm also looking forward to learning something about what you've learned in your research, your setting is interesting to me and I love that kind of stuff. I'm a total history nut.

  4. Good research definitely shows in the finished product. I can't wait to read your historical fiction piece. My friend writes historical fiction and I read the first draft of his novel about two warring native American tribes and gender identity.

  5. Yeah, historical fiction requires a lot of research. That's not a good NaNo friendly genre, if you want to do it right. But I love historical fiction. It's probably my favorite genre to read -- because I love it when an author has researched the time period and shows it to me in detail. Take your time. It will pay off. :))

  6. Good luck on your research, Tonja! Alex is right. You want to get it right, or else you'll write stuff that can't happen and find yourself revising massive sections.

    In my mind, writing a decent first draft is more important than writing 50k in a month.

  7. Research can be fun and it is so important.

  8. It sounds great and I know how hard you've pushed yourself to get through it. Halfway is awesome!!

  9. Good luck with your research! And I'm sure someone/place out there has some road maps from the 1930s.

  10. good for you! research is important and can be fun discovering facts!
    better to pause than go on and spout bs!

    did you see hatfields & mccoys on history channel? awesome! (a few years prior to 1900 but religious mountain folk)

  11. I think it's pretty nifty to write everything you want to write and use different names under which to publish it all. Rock on!

    Also, I'm always impressed by folks who take on historical fiction. I dig doing some research, but the requisite stamina you need to have to do enough to get the details right I do not possess. :-)

    Finally - I'm waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay behind on my blog reading, to my great chagrin, so this next comment is probably long overdue: DIG THE NEW LOOK! Love the clean, green background. Very kewl.
    Some Dark Romantic