Local author shares how to pen historical fiction
The interesting thing about writing historical fiction is that it has its base in history, and history is literally documented events that have taken place.
In writing a fictional story about something that’s happened can be challenging when it comes to getting readers to buy into the story.
That was just one hurdle that Moose Jaw author David Richards helped some aspiring writers overcome as part of his historical fiction workshop at the Western Development Museum on Apr. 13. The event included a variety of tips from the author of four acclaimed novels, as well as a tour of the museum and how ideas could be generated from such a simple walkthrough.
“We’re going to talk about history and we’re going to talk about fiction and how to blend the two together,” Richards said prior to his seminar. “You have to be careful, because a lot of people who read historical fiction read a lot of it, so if you try to sling too much fiction or revise history, you can run into troubles...
“The fiction is number one, you have to write a good story, a good yarn and it has to float along in the historical river. But you can’t revise or change history, otherwise the people who are reading it will nail you instantly. So it’s a pro and a con thing; like a guy who writes poetry has to wait from some inspiration to hit him. With historical fiction, you go to the library, open a book and you see a million plots.”
Richards knows of what he speaks. A writer of historical fiction since the mid-80s, Richards has had four novels published through Thistledown Press, with his second book – The Lady of Batoche – winning the 1999 Saskatchewan Book Award for Young Adult Fiction. His more recent tomes Soldier Boys and The Source of Light have both received award nominations.
While the history part of the whole equation is naturally important, it all comes down to brass tacks in the end – you have to have the fiction part down, just as well. “The real tricky part for me is still getting the fiction,” Richards said. “Getting the story, getting the characters, getting the plot and the inspiration to make it go. That’s the good guys, guys like Ken Follet, they’re fiction writers who have a lot of history flowing through them.” It also helps to write what you know or at the very least do some heavy research. That comes into play for Richards when it comes to choosing locales for his stories. “My historical fiction that has been published has all been based in Saskatchewan or started elsewhere and ended up in Saskatchewan,” he said. “We have lots, tons of good stories here... One came from when I was looking at the Riel Rebellion and the photos of the Battle of Fish Creek, I did a bunch of research and that was the first combat photography ever taken in the world. So that became a story.”
That book, Soldier Boys, was a national finalist for the 1994 Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People.
Richards’ presentation was in conjunction with the Saskatchewan Festival of Words, which will be holding their official launch on Apr. 19 and is set for the July 19th weekend.
“I love the Festival of Words,” Richards said. “It’s one of those things where if you wanted to see Margaret Atwood, you had to go to a big festival in Vancover or Toronto. Now, you can get in your car or walk a few minutes, and there’s Margaret Atwood in Moose Jaw telling you how to write.
“It’s really neat and the people who are here who run it and work with it are top notch.”
David Richards reads from a book of poetry during historical fiction workshop.