Now that I’m writing, I read differently, noticing what makes certain stories such a delight. Many factors come into play, but I was reminded recently how much I enjoy the inclusion of historical detail. When a writer can transport me to another era and make me feel like I’m right there with the characters watching history in the making, I’m happy.
This past weekend I savored Sarah Sundin’s latest World War II historical, Blue Skies Tomorrow. She does a fabulous job with historical detail. I read that she used some 200 sources to document the facts in this book–and her excellent research shows. I felt as though I was living those war-torn years with her heroine on the home front in Antioch, California and with the hero in Europe.
Like Sarah, I enjoy doing research and own an ever-increasing library of reference books. The photo shows some of mine. In addition, I have hundreds of websites bookmarked.
One challenge for me as a writer is to determine how many of the interesting nuggets I discover during my research to include in the story. Too few, and the sense of time and place aren’t well established. Too many, and I risk boring the reader.
My guiding principle is to make sure the historical references I weave into the story are there for a reason. Including interesting snippets simply because I found them fascinating can serve to weaken or slow my story.
Another challenge has to do with readers’ preferences. Some readers prefer a lean story that doesn’t dwell on the history, whereas others want a rich depiction of the setting that gives a real feel for the time and place.
Ultimately, each writer of historical fiction has to decide how many or how few historical references to include. Some writers’ voices and styles lend themselves to more description and detail than others. By having stories available from a variety of authors, each of whom includes a varying degree of historical data, readers of historicals can find stories that best suit their tastes.
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If you’re a writer of historical fiction, how much historical detail do you like to include?
If you’re a reader of historical fiction, do you like a story with lots of detail or only a little?