Monday, 26 June 2017

Writing modern historical fiction

So, what is “modern historical fiction”, right? Well, my WIP is modern historical. It's set primarily in the 1980s, although readers will be given a glimpse of the early 1990s. We can debate as to where the line is drawn. Some would say that, if anyone is alive today who remembers a given period of time, then it is modern historical. It would generally be accepted that the 1950s through to the end of the 1990s qualifies. As to anything later than 1999, but less recent than – well, now, pretty much – as in, contemporary...This is a grey area, and one that it's not easy to sell publishers or readers on. If your novel is set in 2005, it is basically “dated” - neither historical nor contemporary. If you can't “move” the characters from 2005, then it might be a case of holding on to the manuscript until it is old enough to be considered historical. Harsh, I know – but that's pretty much how it is.

What defines historical fiction, in general? Obviously, the story must take place in a historical period – but is that sufficient? In my opinion, the historical setting does need to play a central role in the story. The genre may be more specific than simply historical, of course, and genres can be combined. A historical romance, for example, would need to meet the requirements of both historical fiction and romance.

Is it easier to write modern historical fiction, as opposed to stories set in more ancient times? The obvious answer would be that it is – as, from a research point of view, it is easier to find out about more recent time periods. Everything has its down side, however. Mistakes will be spotted more readily. If you weren't alive during the period you're writing about, try talking to people who were, as well as doing research online, and reading relevant books. If you were around, do your research anyway, as you can't rely upon memory for every detail, particularly if you were a child, during the era in question. Keep in mind that you may have to research aspects of life prior to the period that you actually cover, in order to relate fully to the experiences of your characters.

Character names are important. Classic names work well, but avoid modern, trendy ones, that may not even have existed, at the time. Replace these with “dated” names, which would have been the trendy ones, back then. It's easy enough to Google the popular given names for any particular era, and remember to take the age of the characters into account, too. I hope to cover naming characters in more detail in a future post, but these are just some of the basics, relating to names in modern historical fiction.

I love writing modern historical. It's not that different from writing contemporary fiction, and I get to address many of the social issues that are close to my heart – but the music is better, and no-one has a mobile phone, or Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts.  (Disclaimer: You don't have to agree that the music was better in the 1980s/90s...!)


  1. The "Historical" definition has altered as people have lived longer, experienced more, and info is more accessible. I consider the 1940s historical because of the historical event of WWII, but what does my mother think since she served as an Army Journalist Veteran during that time period? She still remembers it only as "classified". The 80s and 90s are fond memories for me, but definitely not "historical", in my opinion. I guess it depends on your age and perspective, but the beauty of this for writers in our modern society is that we can establish your own boundaries. There is an accepted grouping of time periods for academic research, but we can now choose how we present the information we want to share or the story we tell as it relates to our purpose and scope. Unfortunately, we have to wade through copious misinformation on the Internet so, as writers, we must decide what we accept or reject within the rapidity of technological change. Before the overabundance of facts, supposed facts, and fake facts, news had to be verified by three solid, "named" sources, which was time-consuming and consisted of real "legwork". But the historical definition, your premise above, I remember reading a long time ago, "Time is a river, and you can jump in anywhere." Alternative or altered realities, if they exist, change all preconceptions, definitions, and boundaries. As a writer, you establish your theme and premise, but once done, you should keep it consistent within the media you've chosen to share your information or original plotline. This holds true for journalism, fiction, nonfiction, any genre, blog, opinion, or research. A little injection of humor--I never got beyond your qualifying definition or question concerning it (?) because it was unrelated to your actual premise. The vicious cycle of the "history" of writing is worth studying. Today, there exists a freeing, relaxed climate for writers. The rules are considered flexible and evolving, but the basics are still considered by professionals as the standard starting point. Just a few insights from someone many decades in the industry, and thanks for intriguing my senses and my mind with your skill as a writer.

    1. Thank you for your response. I really appreciate your feedback, and that you have taken the time to share your knowledge, in this way. I will read through again to fully absorb. The internet has seemingly made research much easier, but there is certainly a lot of "fake" and inaccurate information out there nowadays. I can't believe how many people fully trust Wikipedia, for example.