Monday, November 9, 2020

The Obsessed Historical Fiction Writer

My history professor was agog that fact checkers looked over my manuscript before it was published. 

His arms flailed about in frustration as he spoke. “It’s fiction. You’re making it all up. Why do you need fact checkers?” Rather than push him out the second story window, which would be unkind, I explained the three kinds of historical fiction writers. 

The Flavor Writer 

This historical fiction writer wants the flavor of the past without being burdened by accuracy. In other words, this writer drives up to the fast food window and says, “I’ll take the swords, armor, countries, political structures, generalized living conditions, but leave out the historical facts. And a small diet Coke to go, please.” 


Reveling in the past without historical accuracy is a lovely part of escapism. We all go there. Don’t dis it. This kind of writing allows the author and reader to join together in fantastical imaginary places yet remain somewhat grounded in the human condition. 

The Fact Writer 

This historical fiction writer must hold to the facts, and if there is no evidence the event happened, the scene is cut short. There’s no adaption. Perhaps some imagination, but it’s accurate imagination, as if the writer has taken a trip in a time machine and recorded events as they occurred. Sometimes, they take a sword to other historical fictions that simply don’t measure up. If they find a factual mistake in their own work, they will actually fall on their own sword. They take history more seriously than a professor. They take history more seriously than the person who lived it.

The Mixed-Up Writer 

The imagination is used to explain why things happened the way they did. This writer mixes fact and fiction. The work acts as its own chronicle of the past, as if a camera is looking around sets and props and people reading diaries. This writer pours into a cup the diaries, conjectures, reports, guesswork, and mixes the concoction. The drink is offered to the public and hopefully gulped up. If the reader likes the drink, they will buy another. And another.

What are the three types of historical fiction writers? One orders a small diet Coke, another uses a time machine, and the last makes drinks for the public. Read more at Seriously Write #seriouslywrite @peterleavell




Peter Leavell, a 2007/2020 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history and a MA in English Literature, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing's Best award for First-Time Author, along with multiple other awards. An author, blogger, teacher, ghostwriter, jogger, biker, husband and father, Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. Learn more about Peter's books, research, and family adventures at www.peterleavell.com

3 comments:

  1. LOL! This is a good post and not something I see addressed very much, so kudos. In my experience the "flavor" approach leads to superficial writing and surface scretching of setting and it stands out like a sore thumb. Ideally, I'm trying to grow into the Mixed Up Writer but have a tendency to fall back into the fact writer.

    The problem for fact writers is wanting to honor the history so it's a balancing act figuring out how to properly merge the fact & fiction (not to mention taking care so you don't get yourself into legal hot water). But when it's done well, it's the best reading on earth.

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  2. Thanks for the post, Peter! When I read historicals, I notice the language, the word choices. I don't mind if the other facts are exact or if the author used artistic license, except when it comes to modern slang and historical characters. Thanks for outlining these different types for writers. I'm sure historical writers will find themselves in these descriptions. Write on!

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  3. Trying to decide where I wanted to fall in this range was a huge struggle when I firat started writing. I am firmly in the mixed up section now. There's a joke in there somewhere. 😉

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