Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres to read—but it sure isn’t easy to write. The best HF brings the reader smoothly into any chosen time period, choreographing setting, story, character, and plot so they meld seamlessly and feel natural to the reader. Yeah, I know, it’s way easier said than done. In my own completely unorganized way of doing things, clunky prose still exists even in the third or fourth drafts. Here are some of the pitfalls I tend to encounter and eventually overcome:
1) Information Dumps. For example: “Timmy loved his new shoes. Instead of laces, they had strips of prickly fabric that gripped one another. It was called Velcro, and it had just been invented a few years ago in 1948, in Lawrence, Massachusetts by a man named Herman Green, whose fingers had been cut off in a sawing accident and needed a new, easier way to tie his shoes.”
Well, you get it. :o)
2) Stiff Writing or Dialogue. Sifting through wordy 19th-century letters and books stuffed with turns of phrases no one has uttered since the invention of the light bulb is painful enough while doing research. Then I go and realize I’ve made my MC sound like a snooze, too. No really, I am a good writer. Really.
3) Too Many Period Details. I eat up tons of little tid-bits I think are just fascinating, and think: “Oh, this would be great if I could work this in somehow!” So I struggle to fit it in and then end up cutting it anyway.
4) Too Few Period Details. The above being said, I have also at times lost the ambiance of my setting by getting too focused on plot and action and dialogue. Just as too many details distract readers, too few details make the historical setting weak.
5) Forgetting to Advance the Story. Oh, was that last scene supposed to have a point? Why can’t I just talk for five pages about how pioneers churned butter? I sometimes get too obsessed over the story being “historical fiction,” and forget that it is still just a story that needs telling. Needless to say, revision is my friend!