Hello all—we’ve made it to another weekend! Today, author Andrew McDowell has been kind enough to stop by and share his thoughts on historical fiction. Can stories from history be overused, even as a framework for fiction? I enjoyed reading Andrew’s thoughts on this, and I hope you do too!
I enjoy historical fiction and drama. Some feature fictional characters against a backdrop of real events. Others are about real-life figures and certain parts of their lives. But sometimes I find the same events and/or figures have been used to the point where they feel old and I’m less inclined to read/see another adaption.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand why certain events and figures are popular subjects for stories: they appeal to people. Nevertheless I think all writers seek to break new ground in some way rather than going with what’s familiar to audiences, and that goes for all genres, too. For example, when I developed Mystical Greenwood, I hadn’t been aware of many fantasy stories with either a strong emphasis on natural magic and the environment, nor ones with gryphons as the main mythical creature. Sometimes it’s beneficial to bring present something that would be largely unfamiliar to most readers, which in this case would be to shed light on less familiar aspects of history, to those that haven’t been as popular as subjects and settings.
With fictional characters it’s certainly easier to create something new with well-known events. But in every well-known historical period, there’s bound to be some event so not well known that could still be a great backdrop. For example, with any war there is at least one battle that instantly comes to mind. However, many battles are fought in wars, and civilians as well as soldiers face hardship. There are periods preceding and following wars and the struggles others had to endure then. Sometimes events can have similar situations and effects upon fictional characters. And there are certainly many more historical periods and events that can make good story material other than war.
With real historical figures, it’s a similar story. Some figures’ lives, and specific moments in their lives, are more well known. I personally think it’s a good idea to find figures whose lives haven’t been adapted as much. Sometimes, though, a fresh look can come by focusing on a different aspect of a well-known historical figure’s life, or from the viewpoint of another figure associated with the well-known one.
One good way of confirming one’s on this track would be to ask if there’s been a story about the subject and/or character. And I don’t mean going searching for it. The real key, in my opinion, would be if there’s an answer that instantly comes to mind, whether it be a book or a movie or television program. And if there is more than one, I would personally recommend trying to pursue something different or from a different angle.
History really is a treasure trove of stories. Some have become famous and a part of our culture, but fact, again, ought to be acknowledged in the fiction. Others are waiting to be dusted off by so many of us writers. I myself hope to find new ways of shedding light onto history when I get around to writing historical fiction.
About the Author
Andrew McDowell knew he wanted to be a writer since he was thirteen. He is the author of the novel Mystical Greenwood, which was a finalist in the 2019 American Fiction Awards for Fantasy: Epic/High Fantasy, and won the 2021 Maryland Writers’ Association Novel Contest in the category of Science Fiction / Fantasy / Speculative. Andrew has also written poetry, short stories, and creative nonfiction, including an essay about his experiences with Asperger Syndrome that won 2nd place in its category in a literary contest hosted by the MWA in 2015.
Below is more information about his book:
“Dermot is a fifteen-year-old boy living in a remote village in the land of Denú. He has always longed for something more in his life. Now, everything changes after he sees a renowned creature–a gryphon–in the sky, and then crosses paths with a reclusive healer who harbors a secret.
Soon, he and his brother have no choice but to leave the only home they’ve ever known. They travel with new friends across the land through several great forests, along the way meeting an old man, a family of unicorns, and witnessing an important birth. They must evade fire-breathing dragons and dark-armored soldiers hunting them down, all serving an evil sorcerer determined to subjugate the kingdom, and who will stop at nothing to destroy them.
Denú’s only hope is if a renowned coven returns to face the enemy after years in hiding. Dermot, however, suspects their own role may be more significant than he thought, as he slowly discovers a power which exists among the trees and creatures of every greenwood. Can they save those they hold dear? Will Dermot find what he has sought? Or will all that’s free and good be consumed by darkness?
Once again, many thanks to Andrew for stopping by! What thoughts do you have on this topic, Readers? Are there areas of history that you wish writers would explore? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
I’m not the only writer with a new launch: Author A.M. Heath also has a new book out and shared a post with other Christian authors with new releases—they look like great reads!
Next week, I’m looking forward to sharing another guest post. Author JPC Allen is stopping by to share her thoughts on “When a Character Becomes a Problem Child.”
Until then, I’m wishing you all the best!