How to write historical fiction by Alison Weir
Top historical novelist Alison Weir shares exclusive advice with readers ahead of her WM cover outing
Halfway through her Six Tudor Queens series, the historian and author of historical novels spoke to WM and passed on her advice for writers wanting to make their historical fiction ring true.
• Show, don’t tell.
• You craft a book. You look at is as whole. I do my best! I do a first draft and work on it over and over again. And then, its could I use a better word or turn of phrase.
• Do far more research than you need, especially in background and everyday life. I used to do reams and reams of notes, and then use about a quarter or a third of it, but it gives you authority on the period. You have to know everything: clothes, songs, food and drink. There are so many pitfalls for the historical novelist, and if it’s hard, now, for people to get the 1960s right, how much easier is it to get the Tudors wrong?
• Language is a challenge. If you go too far on Tudor-speak, all hey-nonny-nonny, you’ll alienate your readers. But if you go too modern? I wouldn’t do it myself. I’ve read historical sources for years and years, but I only know what was written down, not what they actually said. I’ll use people’s own words as far as possible, but modernise them so they don’t seem out of context in a modern text. And don’t use anachronisms.
• You can’t write a historical novel without being familiar with the sources. You have to have an idea of how people lived. It’s a completely different world and you’ve got to get in the mindset, the zeitgeist, that informs the language.
• It’s interpreting the sources that matters, looking at the etymology of the words and piecing together the sources chronologically.
• You will never please everyone. When I published my first book someone said the language was just right, and someone else said it was anachronistic.
You can read Alison's star interview, where she discusses the balance of scholarly research and speculation, in the June issue of Writing Magazine.
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