• West Cork Literary Festival 8-15 July 2022

Writing Historical Fiction: Really Useful Links by Lucy O’Callaghan

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Lucy O'Callaghan

Lucy O’Callaghan

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The research and accuracy needed when writing historical fiction make it a tricky genre to conquer. These stories need to capture the details of a time period, they need to pull the reader in and immerse them into a historically authentic world with customs, traditions, language, and social norms of that time. I have put together some articles and podcasts with advice and tips on writing historical fiction.

  1. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-write-historical-fiction#quiz-0

This article from Masterclass shares 6 tips for blending fact and fiction when writing historical fiction. The tips include trying free writing about a time period or historical event and noting any assumptions you have about that time and what interests you about it. It is important to consider the point of view that will drive your story so that you can find an interesting way into a time period. Worldbuilding makes a historical fiction book more authentic but you must make sure that it advances the story.

  1. https://thehistoryquill.com/how-to-write-historical-fiction-in-10-steps/

The History Quill breaks down writing historical fiction into ten steps to help you grapple with in-depth research and get to grips with key considerations around historical accuracy and authenticity. This detailed article covers developing your story concept, accuracy and authenticity, and structure. It is well worth the read.

  1. https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/2017/how-to-write-historical-fiction.html

Lesley Downer, the author of The Shogun’s Queen, shares her advice for penning historical fiction. Visiting the place you are writing about can help you get a sense of it and its place in history.

  1. https://www.janefriedman.com/dos-and-donts-of-writing-historical-fiction/

6 principles for writing historical fiction are shared here, including establishing your own set of rules for when to bend history for the sake of your story, and doing plenty of research but knowing what to include and what not to. This article emphasises the importance of integrating history seamlessly into the story.

  1. https://jerichowriters.com/how-to-write-historical-fiction/

This article reminds the writer that character, story, and prose remain as important as ever in historical fiction. It shares tips from two authors and an editor from Harper Collins. They tell us that it is essential to keep the narrative flowing so that it reads like fiction and not a history lesson, and that while readers will be drawn in by familiar events, they don’t want to have heard it all before.

  1. https://nybookeditors.com/2019/09/a-guide-to-writing-historical-fiction/

New York Book Editors advise you to read books in this genre as this will give you a feel for what readers expect when they open your book. Don’t let the time period overshadow the story, choose a decade and not a century. This allows you to focus on a smaller section of time for the most accurate details. The same applies to a specific place. The article tells the writer not to be afraid to weave real events into the plot as they can help to anchor your plot and turn it into historical fiction.

  1. https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2018/09/26/accuracy-vs-authenticity-5-tips-for-writing-immersive-historical-fiction/

This article discusses accuracy vs authenticity and shares 5 tips to engage your reader in your story. It covers compromising with dialogue, making use of perspective, and acknowledging stereotypes.

  1. https://megandouglasauthor.com/blog/historical-fiction-prompts

Megan Douglas offers a list of 25 historical fiction prompts that start from ancient times and go all the way up to the Second World War. It is a handy website to get your creative juices flowing.


  1. https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkcy5hY2FzdC5jb20vcHVibGljL3Nob3dzL2IwZWQ4NWNjLWY0ZWQtNDllOS1iODYwLTBiYTQ4NDgxYWUyNQ/episode/YWU3MzFhZTItMjIwOC00YWYyLWJlMWEtZGQwOGU5MzZjMjk5?hl=en-IE&ved=2ahUKEwjmi5K6nvv3AhXKTsAKHWAABHcQjrkEegQIAxAI&ep=6

In this podcast called Not Just the Tudors, the author, Kate Mosse, talks about historical fiction.

  1. https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkcy5hY2FzdC5jb20vcHVibGljL3Nob3dzLzQwM2I4MDNkLTdkMGItNDlhNi1hZTY4LWNiMGEzN2I4Y2Q1Zg/episode/NzM0ODI3MDAtMTI1Ni00ZmRmLWEyOGQtOTFhZWM3MjU4NWE1?hl=en-IE&ved=2ahUKEwjmi5K6nvv3AhXKTsAKHWAABHcQjrkEegQIAxAR&ep=6

This episode of the History Extra podcast talks to author, Robert Harris, who shares his secrets of writing great historical fiction.

  1. https://megandouglasauthor.com/podcast

This podcast is for historical fiction writers and storytellers. It is a space where different writers share their advice on bringing the past to life. I am sharing the website here and not just one podcast because there are many episodes to choose from. So, I suggest clicking on the link and having a good nosey around.

Reading lots of both factual and fiction in the era you are interested in is worth doing. Taking your time to immerse yourself in the time period; reading, watching documentaries and visiting museums and places where you want to set your story are all great research for your historical novel. To transport your reader to a completely different time is worth the perseverance. Remember that the story must come first. The history is important but it shouldn’t take over the narrative. I hope you have found this week’s column helpful. As always, please get in touch if there are any topics you would like me to cover.

(c) Lucy O’Callaghan

Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31.

Facebook: @LucyCOCallaghan

Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

About the author

Writing since she was a child, Lucy penned her first story with her father called Arthur’s Arm, at the ripe old age of eight. She has been writing ever since. Inspired by her father’s love of the written word and her mother’s encouragement through a constant supply of wonderful stationary, she wrote short stories for her young children, which they subsequently illustrated.
A self-confessed people watcher, stories that happen to real people have always fascinated her and this motivated her move to writing contemporary women’s fiction. Her writing has been described as pacy, human, moving and very real.
Lucy has been part of a local writing group for over ten years and has taken creative writing classes with Paul McVeigh, Jamie O’Connell and Curtis Brown Creative. She truly found her tribe when she joined Writer’s Ink in May 2020. Experienced in beta reading and critiquing, she is currently editing and polishing her debut novel.
Follow her on Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31. Facebook and Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

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