Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Writing Historicals by Kim Vogel Sawyer

This Writer’s Journey Wednesday, I’m pleased to have guest Kim Vogel Sawyer share tips on writing historicals. Kim is an award winning author and friend. I’ve (Dawn) personally enjoyed her novels, and quite a few have found a home in my bookshelves. Enjoy her recommendations for writing in the historical genre.

Writing Historicals

One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon is getting lost in a novel. Preferably a historical novel. As a little girl, I enjoyed visiting the past through reading a good story. When I grew up, I became a history teacher. I suppose, then, given my interest in history and reading historical stories it wasn’t much of a stretch that I would try to become an historical author.

One of the most important elements of any story is reality. Even though it’s a fiction story, plot lines that step beyond the bounds of believability can make a writer lost credibility in a reader’s eyes. So getting the facts straight—being historically accurate—is important. And that’s where research comes in to play.

When my fifth grade students researched for reports, I told them they needed to verify their information with three separate sources. As an author, I follow the same rule. Of course, kids loved to research on-line, and so do grown-ups! But just because you find something on a website doesn’t necessarily prove it’s correct—anyone can start a website. So using other sources is essential.

If possible, I like to visit college libraries in the area where my story is being set. They have wonderful reference sources and often have information specific to the area that you won’t find anywhere else. Librarians are a wonderful help if you need hard-to-find information. I have yet to find a resource librarian that wasn’t willing to help me dig for details.

Building a private library is advisable—especially if your stories tend to focus within a specific time period or area. Having your own books lets you mark important passages, fold down corners, or whatever else helps you study. Librarians usually frown if you mark up their books. :o) Since I write predominantly late 1800s-in-Kansas stories, most of my books are committed to Kansas in the 19th century. I write some Mennonite stories, so I also have Mennonite history books. Over the past years, I’ve collected textbooks from 1911 through the 1950s—not only do these books give historical information, they usually have photographs and they’re written in a language that “sounds” like the time period, helping me step into character.

Books are fantastic, but nothing beats a personal visit to get a “feel” for the area. Every area has its own landscape, vegetation, and typical weather patterns. Experiencing these things for yourself can help you understand what your characters lived.

So carefully research. Then share the information—as a natural extension of the story—so the setting comes alive for your readers.

Bestselling, award-winning author Kim Vogel Sawyer is a small-town Kansas girl living out her childhood fantasies of becoming a writer. Kim's stories contain faith lessons her readers can adopt into their personal lives. She and her husband are empty-nesters with three adults daughters and six grandchildren. Learn more at

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