Sunday, May 9, 2010

It's Hard To Be A Girl (at least, it used to be), and Historical Fiction

I just finished reading The Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. It was a good book, but a little depressing as I've found all Chevalier's books so far (I'm not sure if it's her writing style or just the unfortunate position and plights of women in earlier ages that leave me so grumpy).

The idea of writing historical fiction sort of blows my mind.  I've written historically-inspired short stories and poetry. In fact, my undergrad thesis was a mish-mas of a few different elements:
  • an examination of how "history" and "fiction" combine to different degrees in different forums, with fictional dialogue and exposition used increasingly in actual historical texts to convey a depth that facts alone cannot;
  • an analysis of women's history in Warsaw in World War II -- women in Poland were much slower than women in say, Poland, to campaign for women's rights, probably in part because they were usually involved in quietly supporting the revolution and preserving their culture through cycles of Russian oppression;
  • a short story about a young woman in Poland, her mother dead, father in Auschwitz as a political prisoner, and her brother somewhere in the Polish Army, trying to protect her younger sister and wrestling with her own involvement in the war.
So the research for that short story evolved very naturally from reading and writing about Poland anyway, with a very concentrated focus (women in Warsaw from 1939 to 1945), and it was still quite a challenge. It blows me away how much research it must take to get the right details and construct the world properly to write a historical novel!

But man, I would like to. I have a lot to say right now in a modern setting, but someday I want to write more in a historical vein.  I'm an amateur historian as it is -- it's just a matter of having a story that needs to be told in that setting. And then, of course, reading and reading and reading exhaustively.

What genres do you write, and what genres do you want to write?


Stephanie Thornton said...

I love writing historical fiction- I'm not sure I could write any other genre! The amount of research is daunting, but if it's a time period you love it should be more fun than work, right?

Ellen Brickley said...

I love writing historical fiction, but in future I'm going to write about periods with lots and lots of documentary sources!

Mostly I write contemporary though.

Old Kitty said...

Oh I think you should definitely go the historical writing novel route! Why not? Looks like you've already had experience of research and writing in that genre with your great short story!

Good luck!

At the moment I'd love to be able to write one of those literary sagas! Or even proper science fiction. I say I'd love to only because I can't! LOL!

Take care

Guinevere said...

Stephanie, how long did it take you to prepare before you started working on your novel? My issue is that I always find myself getting hung up on some historical point midst-writing and searching for an answer!

Ellen, I think that's what I will do too when I do start writing more historical stuff -- a mix of historical and contemporary.

Old Kitty, thanks! I've been thinking of trying to find a home for my short story (somewhere besides my university's library, that is :p). I can't write proper sci-fi either -- mine always comes out as a bit of a parody or satire. Maybe someday!

Jen said...

I appreciate everyone who writes historical fiction, I love the stories, the love, the loss, it's all brilliant! I myself don't have the knack for that.

Right now I'm working in fantasy for young adults but I've also worked on some chick lits. I don't think the genre matters much to me, I am only waiting for a great story that pops in the mind!

Aubrie said...

I could never write historical fiction because I'm not very good at history. I'm the best when I'm making everything up: fantasy,sci fi.

Piedmont Writer said...

My first book was an historical romance and the research for that was crazy. (I thought it was going to be so easy HAH!) I then decided to do a series along the same vein and the research on women in Regency England was monumental. It has to be good, but it also has to be accurate!

But I loved the research, it, I think, has made me a better writer for it.

Susan R. Mills said...

I feel the same way about writing historical fiction. I'd love to try my hand at it, but it's daunting with all the research involved. Maybe some day...

Alexandra Shostak said...

I've never written historical fiction--I don't have the patience for the research, and as a fantasy writer, most of my ideas involve magic and supernatural creatures and the like, which can be told in a fantasy setting ;)

I have actually done research on specific elements of certain historical periods for my fantasy worlds. I do love to read historical fiction.

品華yur1095is_newson1 said...
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Kittie Howard said...

I love reading historical fiction but don't have the training to write it. However, you do and think you would do a fab job...I've visited Warsaw several times and find the Old City (restored after WWII) laced with could work wonders with this area!