Being a huge historical fiction fan as well as a writer in this genre, I’ve often wondered: when does the detail become too much?
I know as a writer I often go between the two extremes, either putting way too much detail in and diverting from the story, or not putting enough in and making the setting non-existent.
I’ve recently been reading two historicals (both which I’ll review here when I’m done, so you’ll just have to guess for now ) and both have so much detail in them that I’m sometimes overwhelmed. Both also take place in different cultures and also employ foreign words a great deal. One of the books has a glossary in the back, while the other doesn’t and sometimes makes it hard to figure out.
When I’m writing my Japanese historical novel, I often have to find a way to describe whatever foreign word I’m using to make sure the reader doesn’t get lost. I know my critique group has gotten me on some instances when I don’t give the context of what it means in the following sentences. At the same time you don’t want to make it too obvious because it can throw the reader out of the story too. It’s a precarious position
The best thing we can do as a historical writer–or any writer really–is just keep practicing–and reading other novels–to see how other authors craft their stories and to either follow their example or avoid any pitfalls they may make.
So, I stumbled across a few reading challenges that I just had to participate in–even if a quarter of the year is almost over.
The first is the Classics Challenge over at Stiletto Storytime’s blog. You have to read anywhere from 5-40 classics from Jan.1-Dec. 31. I chose the easier “Bachelor’s Degree” level–10 classics between now and the end of the year. Classics have been harder for me to read just because of how many of them are written (despite the fact I was an English major…heh). I may end up going to the “Master’s” level if I finish before the end of the year, but for now I’ll stick with 10 that I’ve chosen…and that may change as the year goes on (check my tab at the top if you’re curious).
And there’s one other challenge I simply had to sign up for: Historical Fiction Reading Challenge! How could I miss that?! Most of the books I read are historical in some way (fantasy, YA or traditional) and I’ve already read two this year (though not counting them on my list). I signed up for the highest level on that one: Severe Bookaholism, 20 books. I’m pretty sure I can hit that before the end, or at least make a good effort!
Are you participating in any reading challenges this year? It’s not too late to sign up!
I’ve been working on editing my chapter for my critique session in a few weeks and realized there’s a great deal of research that will be involved in making this world–a remote village in Northern Japan in the 1890s–come alive.
Being a historical fiction writer, this is extremely important. Of course every story, whether set in another place or time or Main St., U.S.A. in the 21st century needs to clearly convey the world so the reader can sense it. But with historical fiction, the writer has to convey the time and place accurately. Historical fiction that is well done will make the reader feel as if he/she stepped into a time machine and was placed back in said time. They must see the world–smell it, touch it, feel it–for what it was. It’s crucial to the story.
This is where obscene amounts of research on my part are neeeded. More often than not, I find myself surprised at some of the facts I discover and many times I find myself “lost” in the research process. But the writer (and this is for myself as well as any writer) must be sure that the prose isn’t overly saturated with research. All too often I’ve read historical fiction pieces where the author went a little overboard in description, talking about some mundane fact for a page or two, which then interrupts the flow of the story.
It’s tempting as the writer to do this because we want the reader to see all of the awesome facts we’ve found. But it’s not necessary to let the reader know what exactly the roof tiles were made of in 17th century London unless for some odd reason it’s integral to the story (and I’ve yet to find a story where that’s the case!). So it’s important to maintain that balance–enough description and research that the reader can feel as if they are walking alongside your characters through the muddy streets of a medieval village or on a chaotic Civil War battlefield in the heat of the summer–yet not so decriptive that it feels like a history lecture (unless of course you’re writing non-fiction, but that’s completely different).
I know it can be difficult to find that balance. Personally, I know I struggle with not giving enough description, which can alienate the reader too. It’s a long and sometime arduous process (especially if your story takes place in another culture and research material is hard to find or in another language), but finding those little tidbits can help make your book something that readers turn to for escape.
I’ve set up this blog to detail my progress through my novel, Chrysanthemum Promise. I’ll post pages detailing a summary, setting up research, rough chapter outlines, and character bios, as well as how I am progressing (or not progressing) each day. It’ll be interesting to see how much will change over time, as this is still fairly rough and only the first draft that I am working through. My goal through this blog is to help me stay accountable and keep writing or at least actively working on this every day until it gets published–for it WILL get published someday, whether that’s next year or when I’m 50 (which is 26 years away for me).
Thanks for following me on this journey. I’ll be updating more tomorrow; right now I’ve posted a brief summary page, tomorrow I’ll try and post a bit more detail on what the book is about or something along those lines.