top of page

Manual - Complete Guide to the Historical Novel : From Idea to Publication


A pop art style image depicting an author's desk filled with historical artifacts, books, and manuscripts from various eras. The background features a collage of famous historical figures and events in bright, bold colors typical of pop art, with exaggerated features. The desk includes a quill, inkwell, parchment, a modern laptop, and notes, illustrating the blend of traditional and contemporary tools in historical novel writing.


 

 

Index

Chapter 1: Introduction to the Historical Novel

Definition and origin of the historical novel 1.1.

1.2. Importance of the historical novel in literature

1.3. Major authors and works of the historical novel

1.4. Subgenres of the historical novel (e.g., historical romance, historical thriller)

 

Chapter 2: Research and Preparation

2.1. Choose the historical period and geographical context

2.2. Identify significant events and historical figures

2.3. Historical research: primary and secondary sources

2.4. Balancing historical accuracy and creative freedom (e.g., Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose)

2.5. Creating a bibliography and managing sources

 

Chapter 3: Character and Plot Development

3.1. Creating believable historical characters

3.2. Interweaving fictional characters with historical characters

3.3. Develop a compelling plot consistent with the historical context

3.4. Managing themes and conflicts in a historical novel

3.5. Use language and style appropriate to the historical period

 

Chapter 4: Structure and Narrative Techniques.

4.1. Organize the structure of the novel: linear, nonlinear, multiple points of view

4.2. Narrative techniques specific to the historical novel (e.g., flashback, first- or third-person narration)

4.3. Creating vivid and detailed settings

4.4. Use symbolism and metaphors to enrich the text

4.5. Rhythm and suspense in the historical novel

 

Chapter 5: Conclusions

5.1 The publishing market for the historical novel

5.3 The checklist

5.4 Appendix: Bibliography of useful essays and manuals for writing a historical novel

 


 

 

Chapter 1: Introduction to the Historical Novel

Definition and origin of the historical novel 1.1.

To understand the historical novel, it is essential to begin with a clear definition of the genre and its origins.

 

The historical novel can be defined as a work of fiction that has a well-defined historical period as its background, in which plot and characters are developed.

 

The genre aims to bring that historical period to life through an engaging story while offering a reflection on human nature and the society in which the narrated events take place.

 

The genesis of the historical novel is debated among scholars, but it is possible to identify some literary works that contributed to its formation. These include Sir Walter Scott's "Waverley," published in 1814, considered by many to be the first modern historical novel. Set in 1745 during the second Jacobite revolt in Scotland, Scott tells the story of the protagonist Edward Waverley, a young Englishman torn between loyalty to the crown and sympathy for the Jacobite cause.

 

However, the origin of the historical novel can be traced back to earlier works, such as Madame de Lafayette's "La Princesse de Clèves," dated 1678. Although set in the court of Henry II of France in the 16th century, this novel is distinguished by its historical accuracy and the psychological complexity of the characters, setting the stage for the typical characteristics of the genre.

 

During the 19th century, the historical novel achieved considerable popularity, thanks to writers such as Victor Hugo, with "Notre-Dame de Paris," and Alexandre Dumas, with "Les Trois Mousquetaires." These novels helped solidify the genre, mixing adventure, political intrigue and a carefully recreated historical background.

 

In summary, the historical novel is a literary genre that is characterized by its setting in a well-defined historical context, in which plot and characters are developed, with the aim of reviving the past and offering a reflection on human nature.

 

Its origins can be traced back to works such as "La Princesse de Clèves" and "Waverley," but it was during the 19th century that the genre achieved increasing popularity, thanks to authors such as Hugo and Dumas.

 

 

1.2. Importance of the historical novel in literature

In the literary context, the historical novel plays a major role for several reasons. First, it allows for the exploration of the past, offering readers the opportunity to immerse themselves in eras and cultures other than their own.

 

Through vivid narration and meticulous reconstruction of historical settings, the historical novel succeeds in creating a bridge between the past and the present, bringing the reader closer to the events and characters of a distant time.

 

An emblematic example of this feature is Sigrid Undset's "Kristin Lavransdatter," a work about the life of a Norwegian woman in the 14th century.

 

With her in-depth knowledge of the history and culture of the period, the author succeeds in painting an accurate and compelling picture of daily life in the Scandinavian Middle Ages, allowing the reader to identify with the characters and reflect on the universal themes that run through them.

 

Second, the historical novel constitutes an important tool for social and political criticism. Through the depiction of historical events and characters from the past, authors can express their views on the present and contemporary society, often highlighting injustice, discrimination and conflict.

 

In this sense, the historical novel stands as a kind of mirror for the reader, who can thus compare his or her own time with that of the narrative and draw important lessons from it.

 

A well-known example of this critical function is Sir Walter Scott's "Ivanhoe," which deals with such issues as discrimination against Jews and the struggle for power in medieval England.

 

Although set in the 12th century, the novel offers insights into the social and political issues of the time in which it was written, inviting the reader to question the nature of power and the need for a more just and equitable society.

 

Third, the historical novel contributes to the evolution of literature as a vehicle for stylistic and narrative experimentation.

 

The challenge of depicting the past in a verisimilitude and captivating way pushes authors to seek new expressive approaches and experiment with innovative narrative techniques.

 

In this way, the historical novel becomes a laboratory of ideas and literary forms, enriching the landscape of fiction and influencing the development of other genres.

 

A significant example of this experimentation is "The Doctor of Zaragoza" by José Martínez Ruiz, known as Azorín, who uses evocative, impressionistic prose to tell the story of a Spanish doctor during the War of Independence against Napoleon. The author experiments with a language rich in imagery and suggestion, which contributes to an atmosphere dense with fascination and mystery, offering the reader a unique and memorable narrative experience.

 

Another reason why the historical novel plays a key role in literature concerns its ability to convey values and ideals. Through the vicissitudes of characters and historical events, authors can convey ethical, moral or philosophical messages, stimulating the reader's reflection and intellectual confrontation. In this way, the historical novel also takes on an educational function, contributing to the cultural and human formation of readers.

 

An illuminating example is Alexandre Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo," which deals with themes of revenge, justice and forgiveness through the story of Edmond Dantès, an unjustly imprisoned man who, once escaped, seeks revenge on those who betrayed him. The novel urges the reader to reflect on the limits of human justice and the possibility of redemption, inviting him or her to grapple with significant moral and ethical issues.

 

Finally, the historical novel plays a crucial role in promoting and preserving collective memory.

 

Through the retelling of events and characters from the past, the genre contributes to keeping knowledge of history and traditions alive, stimulating the reader's interest in the cultural and identity heritage of their own country or other peoples. In this way, the historical novel fosters mutual understanding and dialogue between different cultures, enriching the literary heritage of each nation.

 

A striking example of this function is Mario Vargas Llosa's "La guerra del fin del mundo," which chronicles the Canudos uprising in Brazil in the late 19th century. The work sheds light on the historical and cultural roots of a crucial event in Brazil's history, offering readers an in-depth analysis of the underlying social, political and religious dynamics and helping to preserve the memory of an often forgotten episode.

 

In conclusion, the historical novel is of fundamental importance in literature because of its ability to explore the past, convey values and ideals, promote social and political criticism, stimulate stylistic and narrative experimentation, and preserve collective memory.

 

Thanks to works such as "Kristin Lavransdatter," "Ivanhoe," "The Doctor of Zaragoza," "The Count of Montecristo," and "The War of the Fin del Mundo," the genre has been able to establish itself as one of the pillars of world fiction, enriching the culture and literary heritage of entire generations of readers.

 

1.3. Major authors and works of the historical novel

One of the great masters of the historical novel is undoubtedly Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), a Scottish author who helped consolidate the genre through highly successful works such as "Waverley" (1814) and "Ivanhoe" (1819). His literary output, characterized by a compelling narrative and a deep knowledge of British traditions and history, offers you the opportunity to immerse yourself in distant eras and discover the intrigues and tensions that animated the society of the time. Reading Scott means venturing into a world full of color, excitement, and adventure, but also confronting universal themes such as loyalty, justice, and the conflict between past and present.

 

Another prominent author in the landscape of the historical novel is American James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851), best known for the cycle of "Sea Novels" and "Leatherstocking Tales," a series of novels set in the 18th-century American frontier, most notably "The Last of the Mohicans" (1826). Cooper is an indispensable writer for anyone who wants to understand the history and dynamics of the young American nation, with a focus on the relationships between colonizers and indigenous peoples. Reading Cooper will enable you to appreciate the evocative power of his writing and to reflect on the complexity of relationships between different cultures and the need for authentic dialogue that respects diversity.

 

Among the great authors of the historical novel is the Italian Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873), author of The Betrothed (1827), a work set in 17th-century Lombardy and considered a masterpiece of Italian literature. Manzoni succeeds in painting a faithful and detailed picture of the daily life, institutions and social tensions of the time, highlighting the abuses of power and the strength of human passions. Reading "I promessi sposi" will allow you to explore a fascinating and complex world, but also to confront the great moral and philosophical questions that animate the work, such as faith, providence, and individual and collective responsibility.

 

Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949) is an American author who captured the imagination of millions of readers with her historical novel Gone with the Wind (1936). Set in the U.S. South during the Civil War and Reconstruction period, the novel tells the story of love and survival of Scarlett O'Hara, an impetuous and determined young woman. The plot revolves around her relationship with Rhett Butler, a cynical and charming adventurer, and her connection to the land and Southern tradition. Reading Gone with the Wind will allow you to immerse yourself in a crucial era in American history and reflect on the social, racial and political tensions that shaped its course, as well as allow you to discover the narrative power and psychological depth of Mitchell's characters.

 

Ken Follett (1949-) is a British writer known for his highly successful historical novels, including Pillars of the Earth (1989) and World Without End (2007). Set in the 12th and 14th centuries, respectively, these novels follow the events of several characters connected with the construction of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England. The plot unfolds amid political intrigue, amorous passions, power struggles and personal ambitions, giving the reader a rich and exciting picture of medieval life. Reading Follett will allow you to appreciate his skill in constructing compelling and complex plots, as well as his attention to historical detail and reconstruction of the settings and atmosphere of the period.

 

Noteworthy in the field of historical novels is Spain's Arturo Pérez-Reverte (1951-), author of such works as "The Flemish Table" (1990) and "Captain Alatriste" (1996). The first novel, set in the world of art and antiques, follows a young restorer grappling with a mystery related to a 15th-century painting. The story unfolds between past and present, offering the reader a fascinating immersion in the Flemish Renaissance and its historical and artistic implications. The second novel, on the other hand, recounts the adventures of Diego Alatriste, a veteran of the Thirty Years' War who makes his living as a swordsman in the pay of the Madrid nobility. The plot unfolds amid duels, conspiracies and passions, immersing the reader in Spain's tumultuous 17th century. Reading Pérez-Reverte will allow you to discover an author capable of combining adventure, history and reflection, offering an unforgettable journey into the heart of the past.

 

Lev Tolstoy (1828-1910) is one of the most influential authors in Russian and world literature, best known for his historical novels "War and Peace" (1869) and "Anna Karenina" (1877). Both works are set in 19th-century Russia and offer an in-depth analysis of the social, political and cultural dynamics of the time, albeit with different plots and themes.

 

"War and Peace" is a monumental work that chronicles the lives of several Russian aristocratic families during the Napoleonic Wars, between 1805 and 1812. The plot unfolds between major historical events, such as the Battle of Austerlitz and the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, and personal events of the protagonists, such as love affairs, friendships, betrayals, and ambitions. Reading "War and Peace" will enable you to understand the historical and social context of Russia at the time and reflect on the universal issues the author addresses, such as fate, freedom, the meaning of life, and the relationship between the individual and society.

 

"Anna Karenina," on the other hand, focuses on the story of the eponymous protagonist, a Russian high society woman who experiences a troubled extramarital affair with the young officer Aleksej Vronsky, jeopardizing her social standing and her relationship with her husband and son. The plot is intertwined with that of Konstantin Levin, a landowner in search of the meaning of life and love. Reading "Anna Karenina" will allow you to explore the passions, moral conflicts, and tensions between duty and desire that animate Tolstoy's characters and deepen his reflection on morality, faith, happiness, and the search for authenticity.

 

Reading Tolstoy is a powerful literary and emotional experience, allowing you to appreciate the skill with which the author paints a complex and realistic picture of 19th-century Russian society and to immerse yourself in compelling and exciting stories. Tolstoy is also a master at investigating the psychology of characters and probing the depths of the human soul, giving you a unique opportunity for confrontation and introspection.

 

In addition, his works are an essential key to understanding Russian culture, history and literature and to enriching your cultural and literary background.

 

1.4. Subgenres of the historical novel

In the vast landscape of the historical novel, it is possible to identify a number of subgenres that enrich its variety and appeal to readers.

 

Among these, two of the most popular and popular are historical romance and historical thriller. Both combine historical reconstruction with narrative elements characteristic of other literary genres, offering works that can satisfy diverse tastes and interests.

 

Historical romance, as the name suggests, is a subgenre that combines historical and sentimental dimensions, placing love stories set in bygone eras at the center of the plot. The strength of these novels lies in their ability to combine fidelity to historical reconstruction with the creation of engaging characters and passionate love affairs.

 

The historical setting thus becomes the ideal backdrop for exploring the emotions, passions, and challenges the protagonists face in their sentimental journey.

 

A well-known example of historical romance is Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" (1813), which tells the love story between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in a Georgian England dominated by social conventions and prejudice.

 

Another example is Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" (1991), in which the main character Claire Randall, a 20th-century nurse, is transported back in time to 18th-century Scotland, where she meets and falls in love with Jamie Fraser, a young warrior.

 

These novels, in addition to offering engaging love stories, allow you to immerse yourself in fascinating historical contexts and discover customs, traditions and social dynamics of the past.

 

The historical thriller, on the other hand, is a subgenre that combines historical narrative with typical thriller elements such as suspense, mystery, intrigue, and plot twists.

 

In these novels, the plot develops around a puzzle or mysterious event that the characters must solve or face, bringing out secrets and truths hidden in the historical context in which they are set.

 

One of the most famous examples of historical thrillers is Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose" (1980), set in a 14th-century Benedictine abbey and centered on the mystery of a series of murders that the friar William of Baskerville and his novice Adso must unravel. Another notable example is Friedrich Dürrenmatt's "The Judge and His Executioner" (1950), a detective novel that takes place in 1940s Switzerland and chronicles Commissioner Hans Bärlach's investigation into the death of a colleague. Both of these novels, although they belong to different historical contexts, offer you the opportunity to immerse yourself in gripping and suspenseful stories that will keep you glued to the pages until the last chapter. At the same time, they allow you to explore and understand the social, political and cultural dynamics of the eras in which they are set, enriching your knowledge of the past.

 

In addition to these two subgenres, it is possible to identify other strands of the historical novel that intersect with different literary genres. For example, the historical adventure novel, which combines the historical setting with stories full of action, travel and discovery. A famous example is Alexandre Dumas' "The Three Musketeers" (1844), which chronicles the adventures of D'Artagnan and his musketeer friends Athos, Porthos and Aramis in 17th-century France amid court intrigues and political plots. Another example is Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" (1883), which tells of the search for hidden treasure by young Jim Hawkins and his pirate crew in the golden age of piracy.

 

Finally, the historical fantasy novel, which mixes historical narrative with elements of fantasy, mythology and folklore. An example of this subgenre is "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" (2004) by Susanna Clarke, set in an alternate 19th-century England where magic is a known reality and practiced by a few individuals, such as protagonists Jonathan Strange and Gilbert Norrell. Another example is Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus" (2011), which tells the story of a traveling circus and its magic-powered inhabitants, set in a Victorian era full of mystery and fascination.

 

In conclusion, the historical novel stands as an extremely rich and varied literary genre, offering readers a wide range of options and choices. Whether you are interested in love stories, gripping thrillers, breathtaking adventures, or fantastic tales, the historical novel will be able to offer you engaging and thought-provoking narratives capable of transporting you to bygone eras and enriching your knowledge of history and literature. Exploring the different subgenres of the historical novel will allow you to discover new authors, works and themes, broadening your literary horizons and offering an unforgettable reading experience.

 

Chapter 2: Research and Preparation

2.1. Choose the historical period and geographical context

The second chapter of this guide focuses on the basic aspects you need to consider when writing a historical novel. We begin by addressing the choice of historical period and geographical context for your novel.

 

This decision is crucial, as it will have a significant impact on the development of the plot, the characterization of the characters, and the approach to historical research.

 

Choosing the appropriate historical period and geographical context for your novel is a challenging task, but it can be approached by following some guidelines.

 

First, it is important to consider your personal interests and passions. Writing a historical novel requires a significant amount of time and effort, and choosing a time and place that you are passionate about will facilitate the research and writing process.

 

For example, if you are fascinated by the European Middle Ages, you might decide to set your novel in England during the War of the Roses, as in the case of Philippa Gregory's "The Cousins' War" (1989). If, on the other hand, you are interested in ancient Rome, you might consider Robert Graves' "I, Claudius" (1934), which recounts the life of Emperor Claudius, as a source of inspiration.

 

Another factor to keep in mind is your degree of familiarity with the historical period and geographical context you intend to explore.

 

Although you can deepen your knowledge of a time and place through research, starting from a solid base of knowledge will enable you to proceed with greater confidence and authority in writing your novel. In addition, a thorough knowledge will help you avoid errors and anachronisms that could undermine the credibility of your work.

 

We will see in the following points that once you have chosen the historical period and geographical context, it is essential to develop a thorough understanding of the social, political, economic and cultural conditions of the time. This will enable you to create an authentic and believable narrative environment that will engage and enthrall the reader.

 

Your background in this regard, your cultural background, may help you and facilitate the task of achieving this goal, as it is necessary to undertake thorough historical research, consulting primary and secondary sources, such as archival documents, coeval literature, historical essays, and biographies of people of the period.

 

Within this framework, we can anticipate that in the course of your research, you will need to pay special attention to the everyday aspects of people's lives, such as clothing, food, housing and customs.

 

These details, if inserted accurately and discreetly into your novel, will help make the setting more vivid and realistic, facilitating the reader's immersion in the fictional world.

 

Choosing the historical characters who will be part of your narrative is also an important aspect. We will see in the next chapter that you can decide to include real-life characters, such as rulers, politicians, artists, or explorers, or invent fictional characters that interact with the history and society of the time.

 

Whatever your decisions will be, you should consider that the typical reader of historical novels is often a knowledgeable, history-loving person with definite expectations about the quality and authenticity of the novels he or she chooses to read.

 

This is why we urge you to pay close attention to detail and historical accuracy in writing your novel in order to meet the needs of a discerning and knowledgeable audience.

 

Consider that this type of reader expects to be immersed in a narrative world that is true to historical reality, in which the personal stories of the characters are intertwined with the political, social and cultural events and dynamics of the time.

 

To meet these expectations you need to construct a compelling plot that is interconnected with the historical context, taking into account the events and circumstances that characterize the chosen period and place and making certain elements recognizable, easily identifiable.

 

In addition, readers of historical novels appreciate accurate and detailed descriptions of the places, customs and traditions of the period, which help to make the narrative context more vivid and evocative. For this reason, it is important to enrich your novel with significant details and passages that allow them to discover curiosities, anecdotes, and peculiarities of the period, giving them an engaging and fulfilling reading experience.

 

In conclusion, the choice of historical period and geographical context is perhaps the most critical step in writing a historical novel and requires careful thought and research.

 

Keeping in mind the needs and expectations of the history-loving reader, you will need to know how to combine historical authenticity, narrative coherence and emotional involvement in order to deliver a quality literary work that will capture the interest and curiosity of your audience.

 

2.2. Identify significant events and historical figures

In the continuation of the second chapter of the guide, we now address Section 2.2, which is about identifying significant historical events and characters to include in your novel.

 

A crucial aspect of writing a historical novel is the ability to interweave the narrative with events and figures that actually existed in order to lend authenticity and depth to your tale.

 

One of the first things to do is to identify the key historical events that characterize the period and place in which you have decided to set your novel. To do this, you need to conduct thorough research, analyzing historical sources and consulting existing literature on the subject. This will enable you to select the most relevant events and understand the context in which they took place, so that you can integrate them effectively into your plot.

 

An emblematic example of how an author was able to interweave real historical events with narrative is Lev Tolstoy's "War and Peace" (1869). In this masterpiece of Russian literature, the author recounts the lives of several aristocratic families during the time of the Napoleonic Wars, skillfully incorporating authentic historical episodes, such as the Battle of Austerlitz and the invasion of Russia by French troops.

 

Another notable example is Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" (1862), which tells the story of Jean Valjean, an ex-convict, and the people he meets along his path to redemption. The French author includes some significant historical events in his work, such as the Battle of Waterloo and the June 1832 revolt in Paris, providing an accurate and engaging historical background for the protagonist's personal story.

 

Once you have identified relevant historical events, it is equally important to select the historical characters who will play a role in your novel. The choice of historical characters must be careful and thoughtful, as these characters must be able to interact believably with the fictional characters you create and with the events narrated.

 

In Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose (1980), the Italian author succeeds in integrating historical figures, such as Emperor Frederick II and Pope John XXII, into a compelling and intricate plot set in a Benedictine monastery in the 14th century. These historical figures help make the narrative context more authentic and interesting, providing the reader with insights into the nature of power and the complexity of political and religious relations at the time.

 

In Noah Gordon's novel "The Physician" (1986), the American author tells the story of a young English orphan who, on his journey to become a physician in the Middle Ages, encounters real historical figures, such as the famous Persian physician Ibn Sina (Avicenna). The inclusion of these historical figures in the plot helps make the novel more believable and gives the reader an accurate overview of the history of medicine and medieval society.

 

To successfully incorporate historical events and characters into your novel, it is important to pay special attention to the consistency and accuracy of the information you provide. You must make sure that events and characters are described in a way that is faithful to historical sources and that their actions and interactions are plausible and in keeping with the context in which they are placed.

 

In addition, it is crucial to strike a balance between historical accuracy and narrative, avoiding burdening the narrative with an excess of details and information.

 

The goal is to provide the reader with a tension-filled reading experience without losing sight of fidelity to historical context and attention to detail.

 

Infodump (information overload) is always to be avoided, so follow the advice in the "Basics of Storytelling" or "Basics of Revision" guide to avoid this mistake. In any case, it depends on your style: you may need only a few brushstrokes to tell about the Sun King's court, or you may want to introduce a secondary character, perhaps an inexperienced courtesan, who guides, through her dialogues or events, the reader to discover the rules of court.

 

Whichever option you choose be prepared for thorough research, as we will see in the next section.

 

2.3. Historical research: primary and secondary sources

A key aspect of writing a historical novel is the ability to conduct thorough and accurate research in order to ensure the authenticity and coherence of the narrative. In this sense, it is essential to know and be able to use the different types of historical sources.

 

Primary sources are documents, objects or direct testimonies produced during the historical period you intend to explore. They are materials that provide first-hand information about the events, people and context under consideration. Primary sources include letters, diaries, government documents, parish registers, manuscripts, photographs, works of art, and archaeological finds. These sources are of fundamental importance for understanding historical reality and for reconstructing an accurate picture of the chosen period.

 

Secondary sources, on the other hand, are studies and analyses conducted by historians and other experts that build on primary sources. These are books, essays, articles, and other publications that interpret, analyze, and comment on past events and historical figures. Secondary sources are useful for deepening knowledge of the historical context and for understanding the different interpretations and perspectives offered by scholars.

 

To gather the information you need to write your historical novel, you will need to consult both primary and secondary sources.

 

Libraries, archives, museums, and research institutions are ideal places to find these materials. In addition, the Web offers a vast number of digital resources, such as databases, online archives, and specialized Web sites, that can be invaluable to your investigation.

 

Once you have gathered information, it is important to organize it in a systematic and functional way. You can create a digital or paper archive, dividing the materials into categories (e.g., events, characters, places) and noting the sources consulted so that you can cite them properly in your novel or in any explanatory notes.

 

A crucial aspect of historical research is the verification of the information gathered. It is essential to compare different sources and consult the most up-to-date studies in order to avoid errors and inaccuracies. A critical and methodological approach will enable you to select the most reliable and relevant information for your story.

 

It is possible that, in the course of your research, you will gather much more material than you need for writing your novel. However, do not consider this a problem: excess information can be an important source of inspiration and offer you starting points for new plots or subplots.

 

In addition, a thorough knowledge of the historical context will enable you to include interesting and little-known details in your novel, which will help make the story more compelling and original.

 

Another aspect to consider concerns the didactic and methodological approach to historical research. It is important to adopt a rigorous and systematic method that involves consulting a wide range of sources, cross-checking information, and critically evaluating the materials collected. In addition, it is crucial to keep in mind that historical research is a dynamic and constantly evolving process: new discoveries and new studies may indeed lead to revising and updating acquired knowledge.

 

Historical research, therefore, represents a decisive stage in writing a historical novel. Knowledge of primary and secondary sources, the ability to find and organize information, and the adoption of a methodological and critical approach are essential skills to ensure the authenticity and coherence of your story. Remember that the reader of a historical novel is often knowledgeable and detail-oriented, so care and accuracy in the research phase are essential to meet his expectations and provide him with a fulfilling reading experience.

 

And while much of the material collected may not find a place in your novel, it will still be a valuable resource that can enrich your work with interesting details.

 

In this regard, we would like to tell you a couple of anecdotes related to the historical research carried out by Lev Tolstoy during the writing of his masterpiece "War and Peace." Tolstoy was known for his attention to detail and the accuracy with which he depicted the historical context of his novels. For "War and Peace," which is set during the Napoleonic Wars and focuses on the lives of the Russian nobility of the time, the author conducted painstaking research, to say the least.

 

Tolstoy read dozens of diaries, memoirs, letters, and historical accounts of the time in order to fully immerse himself in the historical period and to fully understand the events, characters, and atmosphere that characterized that time. In order for the description of the battles to be scrupulous, Tolstoy personally visited the places where the one at Austerlitz and the one at Borodino had taken place, so that he could study the maps and reports of the clashes directly on the ground and to be able to describe them as accurately as possible.

 

The second anecdote is rather curious and concerns the choice of language used by the characters in the novel. At the time, the Russian nobility spoke predominantly French, which was considered the language of culture and high society. To faithfully reflect this reality, Tolstoy included numerous dialogues and passages in French in the novel. However, the choice to use French posed some problems in the Russian version of the novel: some critics and readers complained that it was difficult to understand the foreign language parts. Nevertheless, the author kept the language choice in order to preserve the historical authenticity of the novel.

 

These anecdotes demonstrate the importance of historical research in writing a novel and the level of commitment and dedication an author can bring to bear to ensure the authenticity and coherence of his tale. Tolstoy's meticulousness in researching and writing "War and Peace" helped make this novel one of the masterpieces of world literature, still admired and studied today for its extraordinary ability to plunge the reader into the heart of a distant and fascinating era.

 

 

2.4. Balancing historical accuracy and creative freedom

In writing a historical novel, one of the most delicate and complex aspects is the balance between historical accuracy and creative freedom. On the one hand, it is essential to respect the historical facts and context of the period in order to provide the reader with an authentic and believable experience; on the other hand, the author must allow himself or herself the freedom to imagine and invent situations, characters, and dialogue that will bring to life a compelling and engaging plot. In this section, we will look at some strategies for striking the right balance between these two aspects in writing your historical novel.

 

First, it is important to establish from the outset which historical elements will be central to your narrative and which, on the other hand, can be adapted or modified to further the development of the plot and characters. Once you have identified the events and historical contexts that will form the framework of your story, it is essential to flesh them out through rigorous historical research, as we saw in the previous section. In this way, you will acquire a solid knowledge base on which to build your narrative, avoiding gross errors and anachronisms that could undermine the credibility of your novel.

 

However, it is equally important to allow yourself the freedom to invent and imagine new narrative elements that can make your novel more engaging and original. One of the most effective strategies for balancing historical accuracy and creative freedom is to focus narrative invention on characters and situations while maintaining a strict adherence to relevant historical facts. For example, you can create fictional characters who move within a real historical context and interact with characters who actually existed. In this way, you will have the opportunity to develop original plots and subplots without distorting the historical events that form the framework of your narrative.

 

An example of this approach is Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose, set in a Benedictine abbey in northern Italy in the 14th century. While offering an accurate reconstruction of the historical and cultural context of the time, the novel features entirely fictional characters and plot, which are intertwined with references to real historical figures, such as the philosopher William of Occam.

 

Another key element in balancing historical accuracy and creative freedom concerns the narrative style and language used in the novel. It is important to strike a balance between language that is faithful to the period and language that is accessible and understandable to the contemporary reader. This can be done by adopting a language register that, while evoking the historical period in question , is still clear and fluent for today's audience. This requires careful synthesis and adaptation, which may include the choice of appropriate vocabulary and the use of expressions and idioms consistent with the period, while avoiding excessive or incomprehensible archaisms.

 

In seeking the right balance between historical accuracy and creative freedom, the writer must ask himself some basic questions that will help him evaluate whether his narrative is on the right track. These questions include:

 

  1. Are the plot and characters consistent with the chosen historical context? Make sure that the actions and motivations of the characters are plausible within the historical period in which the story takes place.

  2. Are historical events presented accurately and truthfully? Check that historical events are correctly described and that any changes or adaptations do not undermine the credibility of the narrative.

  3. Is historical information integrated naturally and smoothly into the plot? Avoid inserting lengthy digressions or historical notions that may weigh down the pace of the story; instead, try to bring out the information through the dialogues, actions, and reflections of the characters.

  4. Is the language and narrative style appropriate to the period and accessible to the contemporary reader? Check that your language register is consistent with the historical period, while remaining understandable and enjoyable for today's reader.

  5. Does the story offer an original and interesting perspective on the chosen historical period? It tries to avoid clichés and clichés, offering the reader a new and thought-provoking perspective on history and the human events that animate it.

 

By answering these questions, the writer will be able to assess whether his or her historical novel successfully combines historical accuracy and creative freedom, offering the reader a rich, engaging, and culturally significant narrative experience. Ultimately, the secret to balancing these two aspects lies in the ability to immerse the reader in a past world, making him or her feel its authenticity and complexity, while keeping narrative tension and interest in the characters and the events involving them alive.

 

2.5. Creating a bibliography and managing sources

In the process of creating a historical novel, it is crucial to effectively and accurately manage sources and information gathered during research. Creating a bibliography and organizing sources are essential steps to ensure an accurate and well-documented work. In this section, I will provide you with some guidelines for creating a bibliography and managing sources in the best way possible.

 

First of all, it is important to have a clear understanding of the difference between primary and secondary sources. As discussed in Section 2.3, primary sources are documents or direct evidence from the period in which the historical novel takes place, while secondary sources are studies and analyses based on primary sources by scholars and specialists in the field. Both types of sources are indispensable for historical research and must be carefully selected and analyzed.

 

To create a bibliography, some basic steps must be followed:

 

Identify relevant sources: Begin by selecting the sources you feel are most appropriate for your historical novel. This may include books, articles, archival documents, artwork, and other materials that offer information and context about the historical period and the place where the story takes place.

 

Classify sources: Once you have identified sources, it is useful to classify them according to their type (primary, secondary, tertiary sources) and their content. This will help you organize the information and identify any gaps in your research.

 

Take notes and annotations: While reading and analyzing sources, take detailed notes on information relevant to your historical novel. Also jot down quotes and source pages so that you can easily refer to them later.

 

Create a formal bibliography: When you have collected and analyzed all relevant sources, it is time to create a formal bibliography, listing all works consulted in the course of your research. The bibliography should be written in a standard bibliographic style (such as APA, MLA, or Chicago) and should include complete information about each source, such as author, title, publisher, publication date, and pages consulted.

 

In addition to creating a bibliography, it is equally important to effectively manage the sources and information collected. Here are some suggestions for doing so:

 

  1. Organize information logically: Try to organize the information you collect in a logical and structured way, grouping it by topic, historical period, characters, or other relevant criteria. This will help you maintain a clear view of the material and quickly locate the information you need as you write.

  2. Use source management tools: There are several tools and software available to help you manage and organize your sources and bibliography. Some of these tools, such as Zotero, EndNote, and Mendeley, allow you to create a database of references, import citations directly from websites and databases, and automatically generate bibliographies in various styles. Choose the tool that best suits your needs and work habits.

  3. Keep security copies of sources and documents: It is important to keep security copies of all research documents, including photocopies, scans, and digital copies of archival materials and primary sources. Also, be sure to have backup copies of all your notes and working documents so that you do not lose valuable information in case of technical problems or data loss.

 

Verify and update information: In the course of research and writing, you may discover new information or your sources may be updated or changed. Be sure to periodically check your sources and update the information in your reference database and bibliography.

 

Establish a balance between research and writing: Finally, it is important to strike a balance between research and writing. While it is critical to spend time gathering and analyzing information, it is equally important to begin writing and developing the plot and characters of your novel. Remember that research is only a tool to help you create a compelling and historically accurate story, but it is your storytelling skills and imagination that bring the story to life.

 

In conclusion, creating an accurate bibliography and managing sources effectively are essential aspects of writing a historical novel. By following these steps and using the tools and resources available, you will be able to build a solid historical background for your novel and create a compelling, well-documented story. Always remember that your primary responsibility as a writer is to entertain and inform the reader, and that research and historical accuracy are means to that end.

 

Chapter 3: Character and Plot Development (12,000 words)

3.1. Creating believable historical characters

Creating believable historical characters is a key element in writing a successful historical novel. Characters must be well delineated, consistent with their historical context and, at the same time, able to elicit empathy and interest in the reader. In this section, we will explore some strategies for developing compelling and memorable historical characters.

 

First, a thorough understanding of the historical period in which your characters live is essential. This will allow you to develop characters that are consistent with their circumstances and customs of the period. For example, it is important to know the social norms, gender expectations and conventions of daily life in your chosen period. In Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables," the author succeeds in creating consistent and memorable characters because of his deep knowledge of 19th-century French society.

 

Once you are familiar with the historical context, it is important to develop complex, multidimensional characters. A well-developed character will have a distinct personality, a set of goals and desires, and a range of internal and external conflicts. In H.G. Wells' "World Wars," characters are involved in a struggle for survival against an alien invasion, but they also have to deal with their inner demons and complicated interpersonal relationships.

 

In creating believable historical characters, it is essential to take into account the role of social class, gender, ethnicity, and culture in the characters' lives. These factors will influence their actions, values and relationships with other characters. In Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha," the protagonist Sayuri must navigate the complex world of 20th-century Japanese society and its restrictions based on gender and class.

 

Another important aspect in creating believable historical characters is the way they speak and express themselves. The characters' language should reflect their historical, social, and cultural context. However, it is important to strike a balance between historical authenticity and comprehensibility for the modern reader. In Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose," the author uses language that evokes the atmosphere of the 14th century while maintaining accessibility for the contemporary reader.

 

It is also important to consider the relationship between real and fictional historical characters. While some historical novels focus exclusively on real characters, others mix historical and fictional characters to create a compelling and engaging plot. In "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger, the main character Holden Caulfield interacts with a range of real and fictional characters, giving the reader a unique and personal view of the postwar United States. When inserting real historical characters into a narrative, it is important to do careful research to ensure that their actions and interactions with fictional characters are plausible and consistent with what is known about their lives and personalities.

 

As you work on creating believable historical characters, don't forget to pay attention to their motivations and evolution throughout the story. Characters should have clear goals and face challenges that will test them and make them grow. In "The Amulet of Samarkand" by Jonathan Stroud, the main character Nathaniel, a young wizard, is driven by his thirst for power and knowledge, but over the course of the trilogy he learns to understand the value of friendship and loyalty.

 

It is equally important to ensure that historical characters are relatable to the reader. Although their values and actions may be very different from those of modern audiences, they should still elicit empathy and interest. This can be achieved by giving the characters strong human desires, fears and needs with which the reader can identify. In Valerio Massimo Manfredi's "The Romance of Alexander," the protagonist Alexander the Great is a historical figure distant in time, but his desire for glory and his complex relationships with those around him make him fascinating and engaging.

 

Finally, it is essential that the characters be consistent within the plot. Their actions and decisions should be in line with their personalities, motivations, and the circumstances in which they find themselves. In Alexandre Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo," the protagonist Edmond Dantès enacts a series of ingenious plans for revenge against those who betrayed him, but he does so in a way that is consistent with his character and the evolution he undergoes throughout the story.

 

In conclusion, creating believable historical characters is a fascinating and rewarding challenge for writers of historical novels. Paying attention to historical context, character complexity, character motivations, evolution, and narrative coherence can help you create memorable and engaging characters that will capture your readers' imaginations and transport them to the past.

 

3.2. Interweaving fictional characters with historical characters

Interweaving fictional characters with historical figures is a central element in writing a historical novel, as it allows for the creation of a compelling and fascinating plot that weaves between real events and literary inventions. To do this effectively and credibly, it is essential to pay attention to several aspects of the creative process, which we will explore throughout this section.

 

First, it is essential to establish a balance between fictional and historical characters, so that neither group dominates the narrative at the expense of the other. An emblematic example of this balance is found in Ken Follett's novel Pillars of the Earth, where the author interweaves the lives of fictional characters, such as Tom Builder and Philip, with those of historical figures such as Henry II of England and Thomas Becket. In this way, the story is enriched with accurate historical details without losing the charm and entertainment provided by the fictional characters.

 

Another crucial aspect of interweaving fictional characters with historical characters is the consistency of interactions between them. The relationships between historical and fictional characters must be plausible and respect the historical context and the personalities of the characters involved. In Tracy Chevalier's "The Girl with the Pearl Earring," the author creates a believable interaction between the fictional protagonist Griet and the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer based on historical knowledge of the artist's life and the social dynamics of the time.

 

To successfully interweave fictional and historical characters, it is also important to pay attention to the function of each character within the plot. Historical characters should play a significant role and not be inserted into the story merely to lend authenticity to the tale. An example of this approach is found in the novel "The Cathedral of the Sea" by Ildefonso Falcones, where King Alfonso X of Castile plays a crucial role in the story, directly influencing the lives of the fictional characters and the fate of the cathedral under construction.

 

It is also crucial to consider the impact of the actions of fictional characters on history and the lives of historical characters. Authors must be careful not to significantly alter historical events or the course of historical characters' lives through the actions of their fictional characters. In Carlos Ruiz Zafón's novel "The Shadow of the Wind," the fictional protagonist Daniel Sempere runs into a number of historical characters, but his actions do not unrealistically affect their lives or the historical events of the time.

 

Finally, it is important to remember that the main goal of creating fictional characters within a historical novel is to entertain and engage the reader, offering a new and compelling perspective on history. Therefore, it is crucial to develop well-constructed, three-dimensional fictional characters that can capture the reader's interest and guide him or her through the plot.

 

In this process, the author can make use of a wide range of narrative techniques to make fictional characters interesting and vivid. One such technique is to give characters a distinctive past, personality and voice that makes them unique and memorable. An example of this is found in Umberto Eco's novel "The Name of the Rose," where the fictional character of William of Baskerville has a complex and fascinating personality that makes him a central figure in the story.

 

Another key aspect of creating fictional characters is to give them a clear and relevant narrative function. Fictional characters can serve as guides for the reader in the historical world, as witnesses to events, or as catalysts for changes and developments in the plot. For example, in J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, set in the historical context of postwar America, the protagonist Holden Caulfield offers a unique and engaging perspective on the society of the time, serving as a witness and commentator on events.

 

In conclusion, interweaving fictional characters with historical characters is one of the most fascinating and rewarding challenges in writing a historical novel. To do so effectively and believably, it is essential to pay attention to various aspects of the creative process, including the balance between the two groups of characters, the consistency of interactions, the narrative function, and the impact of fictional characters' actions on history and historical characters. Through careful planning and historical research, authors can create compelling and engaging historical novels that offer a fresh and exciting perspective on the past.

 

 

3.3. Develop a compelling plot consistent with the historical context

In order to develop a compelling plot that is consistent with the historical context, you as a writer need to keep a few key elements in mind during the creative process.

 

First, it is essential to conduct thorough historical research to fully understand the period and context in which the narrative takes place. This will enable you to create a plot that respects actual historical events and can be considered credible by the reader.

 

Once the historical context has been established, it is important to begin outlining the plot structure, taking into account the main stages of the narrative: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

 

It is important that each of these phases be well developed and consistent with the historical period in question. An example of a novel that follows a plot consistent with its historical context is Lev Tolstoy's "War and Peace," which chronicles the lives of several Russian families during the Napoleonic invasion and gives the reader a realistic picture of the events and dynamics of the time.

 

To make the plot compelling, it is essential to create conflicts and tensions that capture the reader's attention and compel him or her to continue reading. Conflicts can be internal, such as the conflict between the characters' desires and duties, or external, such as the political or social tensions present in the society in which the narrative takes place. An example of this approach is found in Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables, where the conflict between the main character Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert is fueled by ethical and moral issues as well as the social and political situation of the time.

 

In addition to conflicts, it is equally important to develop a narrative arc for the main characters, showing their evolution over the course of the story. This can be done through their experiences, relationships with other characters, and lessons learned along the way. A notable example is Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," in which the main character, Elizabeth Bennet, through her interactions with Mr. Darcy and the vicissitudes of her family, matures and overcomes her initial prejudices.

 

Finally, to ensure that the plot is consistent with the historical context, it is essential to pay attention to the language, customs and social norms of the time. This includes the way characters express themselves, behave and interact with each other, as well as the social conventions that influence their decisions and actions. For example, in Gustave Flaubert's novel "Madame Bovary," the story of protagonist Emma Bovary is closely linked to the social and moral restrictions of the time, which significantly influence her choices and relationships.

 

Another aspect to consider is the balance between historical events and fiction. While it is important to respect historical reality, it is equally crucial to allow your creativity to flow and create a compelling and unique story. You can do this by including fictional characters and original subplots that intertwine with historical events and real characters without distorting historical reality. An example of this balance can be found in Umberto Eco's novel "The Name of the Rose," in which the author imagines a series of mysterious events taking place in an abbey in the 14th century, while incorporating historical and philosophical elements of the period.

 

To maintain consistency between plot and historical context, it is also important to pay attention to the chronology of events. Be sure to follow a logical time order and respect the time sequence of actual historical events. This will help avoid anachronistic errors and make your story more believable in the eyes of the reader.

 

Also, think about the themes and messages you wish to convey through your historical novel. These can be related to historical events or challenges faced by the characters, but it is important that they are present consistently and meaningfully throughout the plot. For example, in Isabel Allende's novel "The House of Spirits," the author explores themes such as the struggle for power, repression, and survival in a well-defined historical context, giving the reader a deep insight into the political and social dynamics of 20th-century Chile.

 

In conclusion, developing a compelling plot consistent with historical context requires a combination of careful historical research, creativity, and attention to detail. Always keep the historical context and the reader's needs in mind, and try to carefully balance historical accuracy and creative freedom. Remember that your main purpose is to entertain and engage the reader while providing an accurate and interesting view of the historical period you have chosen to explore.

 

3.4. Managing themes and conflicts in a historical novel

 

In creating a successful historical novel, it is crucial to be able to handle themes and conflicts in an effective and engaging way. To this end, it is important to identify the central themes you want to explore in your narrative and to develop conflicts that are closely related to the historical context and the characters' experiences.

 

To begin, analyze the historical period and circumstances in which your story takes place. Identify the social, political, cultural and moral themes most relevant to that period and think about how these can be incorporated into your plot. For example, in Lev Tolstoy's novel War and Peace, the author addresses themes such as war, love, family, loyalty and friendship within the historical context of the Napoleonic Wars.

 

Once the central themes have been identified, it is necessary to develop conflicts that are both compelling to the reader and consistent with the historical context. Conflicts can be of different kinds, such as those within characters, between characters, or between characters and external forces. An example of effective conflict management can be found in Victor Hugo's novel "Les Miserables," in which the main character, Jean Valjean, is in constant conflict with society and himself as he tries to redeem himself and find his way in tumultuous 19th-century France.

 

It is also important to consider how themes and conflicts can be used to examine complex moral and ethical issues, challenging the characters' beliefs and values. For example, in Khaled Hosseini's novel "The Kite Hunter," the author uses the conflict between the two main characters, Amir and Hassan, to explore themes such as loyalty, betrayal, redemption, and ethnic discrimination in the context of Afghanistan's history.

 

Another crucial aspect of handling themes and conflicts is the ability to maintain the balance between historical reality and fiction. Although it is important to be accurate in the depiction of historical context, it is equally crucial to leave room for creative freedom and imagination. For example, in Noah Gordon's novel "The Physician," the author manages to mix accurate historical elements concerning medicine in the Middle Ages with a compelling plot and well-developed characters, all without sacrificing historical authenticity.

 

Finally, it is essential to pay attention to the development of characters over the course of the narrative and how they evolve in response to the conflicts and issues addressed. A good example of character development can be found in Anthony Doerr's novel "The Light You Cannot See," in which the main characters, Marie-Laure and Werner, face challenges and conflicts related to the war and their personal circumstances, maturing and changing over the course of the story.

 

A key part of dealing with themes and conflicts is the ability to avoid Manichaeism and present characters and situations in multifaceted and complex ways. For example, in Carlos Ruiz Zafón's novel "The Shadow of the Wind," the author offers a nuanced view of post-Civil War Spain, exploring the tensions between different political and social factions, as well as the secrets and desires that move the characters.

 

When addressing themes and conflicts in a historical novel, you also need to keep in mind the expectations of your audience. Readers of historical novels are usually history buffs and expect your narrative to be accurate and well researched. However, you must also ensure that your story is compelling and engaging, providing readers with a rewarding and stimulating reading experience.

 

In conclusion, managing themes and conflicts in a historical novel requires a deep understanding of the historical context, scrupulous attention to detail, and the ability to create characters and situations that are consistent with the era and circumstances in which the story takes place. By carefully analyzing the historical period and relevant themes, developing compelling and consistent conflicts, and allowing characters to evolve over the course of the narrative, you will be able to create a historical novel that captures readers' imaginations and transports them to another era.

 

3.5. Use language and style appropriate to the historical period

To create an authentic immersion in the historical period you have chosen for your novel, it is essential to use appropriate language and style. As a writer, you are responsible for selecting words and constructing sentences that reflect the era and context in which your story takes place. In addition, you will need to consider narrative voice, tone, and pacing, ensuring that the text is smooth and engaging for the reader. In this section, we will look at some important aspects to consider when using language and style appropriate to the historical period.

 

First, it is crucial to know the vocabulary of the era you have chosen for your historical novel. This means becoming familiar with the words and expressions used in the time and place in which your story takes place. An example of this approach is Hilary Mantel's novel "Wolf Hall," set in the court of Henry VIII. Mantel uses language that is accurate for the period, avoiding anachronisms and modern terms that might distract the reader from the historical setting.

 

It is also relevant to pay attention to the language register of your characters. This varies according to the characters' social class, education and circumstances. In Victor Hugo's novel "Les Miserables," the author adopts an elevated and formal style to describe the reflections of characters such as Jean Valjean and Javert, while using more colloquial and popular language for lower class characters such as Thénardier and Gavroche. This variation in linguistic style helps to create more realistic and three-dimensional characters.

 

The narrative voice is another crucial element to consider when using language and style appropriate to the historical period. The narrative voice can be that of an omniscient narrator or of one or more characters, and it must be consistent with the tone and atmosphere of the novel. In "Memoirs of Hadrian" by Marguerite Yourcenar, the narrative voice is that of Emperor Hadrian, who narrates his life and thoughts in the first person. Yourcenar adopts an elegant and reflective style, appropriate to the character and the era in which the story is set.

 

The tone and pace of your historical novel should be consistent with the period and context in which the story takes place. For example, if you are writing a novel set in the Middle Ages, you might adopt a more formal tone and a slower pace to reflect the historical context. On the other hand, a novel set in the tumultuous period of the French Revolution might require a more dramatic tone and a faster pace to evoke the atmosphere of tension and uncertainty of the time. An example of this can be found in Charles Dickens' novel A Christmas Carol, set in Victorian London. Dickens adopts a tone that mixes irony and seriousness, and a pace that varies according to the situations and emotions of the characters, succeeding in capturing the essence of the historical period.

 

In writing a historical novel, it is also crucial to consider the use of dialogue. Dialogue between characters must be believable and reflect the linguistic conventions of the historical period. For example, in Jane Austen's novel "Pride and Prejudice," set in late 18th-century England, the dialogue is characterized by formal, polite language typical of the social conventions of the time.

 

It is important to be aware of the cultural nuances of the chosen historical period. This includes knowledge of social norms and customs, religious beliefs and political ideologies, and everyday practices that influence the lives of the characters. An example of this attention to cultural nuances can be found in Markus Zusak's novel The Little Girl Who Saved Books, set in Nazi Germany. Zusak painstakingly describes the difficulties of daily life under the Nazi regime and the complex relationships between the characters, demonstrating a deep understanding of the historical and cultural context.

 

In conclusion, using language and style appropriate to the historical period is critical to creating a compelling and engaging historical novel. It is important to familiarize yourself with the vocabulary of the period, adapt the language register to suit the characters, develop a narrative voice that is consistent with the tone and atmosphere of the novel, manage the dialogue in a way that is credible and attentive to the linguistic conventions of the time, and finally, be aware of the cultural nuances that influence the lives of the characters. Only through careful attention to these elements can you offer the reader an immersive and authentic experience of the historical period you have chosen to narrate.

 

Chapter 4: Structure and Narrative Techniques.

4.1. Organize the structure of the novel: linear, nonlinear, multiple points of view

 

In writing a historical novel, the choice of narrative structure plays a crucial role in the impact it will have on the reader and the effective rendering of the story told. The structure can be organized linearly, nonlinearly, or through multiple points of view. In this section, I will guide you in exploring these different options, illustrating how each can enrich your story, and providing literary examples to underscore the effectiveness of such structural choices.

 

First, the linear structure is one in which events are told in chronological order, from the past to the future, following the time sequence of events. This structure is particularly suitable for historical novels that follow a main character along a path of growth and discovery. An example of linear structure can be found in Lev Tolstoy's novel War and Peace, in which the story unfolds along a well-defined time frame, following the lives of the main characters during the Napoleonic Wars.

 

Alternatively, the nonlinear structure involves events being narrated not in chronological order but according to an internal logic within the narrative, which may be based on thematic, emotional, or other associations. This type of structure can be particularly effective when one wishes to emphasize connections between different historical events or explore relationships between past, present, and future. An example of a nonlinear structure is found in Giorgio Bassani's novel "The Garden of the Finzi-Contini," in which the narrator traces, through his memories, the life of the Finzi-Contini family in the period leading up to World War II, alternating moments from the past with reflections on the present.

 

Finally, the use of multiple points of view allows the story to be told through the different perspectives of the characters involved, offering a more complex and nuanced view of the historical events being narrated. This approach can enrich the narrative by showing how events can be experienced and interpreted in different ways by the various characters. An example of this kind of structure can be found in Ken Follett's novel Pillars of the Earth, in which the events surrounding the construction of a cathedral in the 12th century are told through the voices of different characters, each with their own personal motivations and challenges.

 

Now that you understand the differences between these three types of narrative structure, it is important to reflect on which one is most appropriate for your historical novel. To determine the most appropriate structure, you should consider several factors, including the objective of your story, , the complexity of the historical events you intend to explore, and the emotional and psychological needs of your characters. Choosing the right narrative structure can make the difference between a novel that thrills the reader and one that fails to fully engage the reader in the story.

 

To give you further insights into how to choose the best structure for your historical novel, I present two examples of literary works, each of which took a different approach to storytelling.

 

The first example is Umberto Eco's "The Island of the Day Before." In this novel, the author uses a mostly linear structure, but interspersed with flashbacks and reflections that enrich the narrative. The story follows the vicissitudes of the protagonist Roberto, shipwrecked on a desert island in the 17th century, and his discoveries regarding the mystery of longitude. The linear structure, in this case, helps to maintain a sense of continuity and progression in the story, while facilitating understanding of the scientific and philosophical themes addressed by the author.

 

The second example is David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas." In this novel, Mitchell adopts a nonlinear and complex narrative structure in which six different stories, set in different historical periods, are woven together. Each story is told through a different point of view and a different literary genre, but they all share common themes and present connections between the characters and the events narrated. This structural choice allows Mitchell to explore the concept of reincarnation and the repercussions of human actions over time, giving the reader a broader and more nuanced view of historical events.

 

Thus, the choice of narrative structure is a key aspect of writing a historical novel. Whether you opt for a structure that is linear, nonlinear, or based on multiple points of view, it is important to consider how this choice affects the reader's experience and ability to effectively convey historical events and the characters' stories. Studying the works of great authors and analyzing their structural choices can offer you valuable insights into how to shape your historical novel, making it an engaging and memorable work.

 

 

4.2. Narrative techniques specific to the historical novel

As you set out to write a historical novel, it is essential to have a thorough understanding of specific narrative techniques that can help make your work more compelling and engaging for the reader. Among these techniques, we can include the use of flashback, the choice between first- or third-person narration, and other strategies that can help you create an exciting story that is consistent with the historical context.

 

A narrative technique widely used in the historical novel is the flashback, which consists of the introduction of past episodes within the main plot. This technique can be used to provide important information about the characters' past, their motivations, or the circumstances that led to the events narrated. An emblematic example of the use of flashback is Joseph Boyden's "The Road Home" ("Le chemin des âmes"). In this novel, the author alternates chapters set in the present with others that reveal the past of the two main characters, allowing the reader to gradually understand the connection between the two characters and the historical events that marked their lives. The flashback, then, can be a powerful tool for enriching the narrative and creating suspense, as long as it is used sparingly and consistently.

 

Another crucial choice you will face as a writer of a historical novel concerns the narrative point of view: will you choose to tell the story in first or third person? Both options have advantages and disadvantages, and the best choice will depend on the specific needs of your story and your goals as a writer. First-person narration, for example, can provide a more intimate and engaging experience for the reader, who identifies directly with the narrating character. A classic example of first-person narration in the historical novel is Robert Graves' "I, Claudius" ("I, Claudius"), in which the Roman emperor Claudius recounts his life and the events of his era in a confidential and passionate manner.

 

On the other hand, third-person narration can offer a broader and more objective view of historical events and various characters, allowing the reader to observe history from different perspectives. A well-known example of third-person narration is Lev Tolstoy's "War and Peace" ("Война и мир"), in which the author describes the events of the Napoleonic War and Russian society at the time through the eyes of numerous characters, giving the reader a complex and multifaceted overview of historical events and human relationships.

 

In addition to point-of-view choices and the use of flashback, there are other narrative techniques that can be successfully employed in the historical novel. For example, the "tale within a tale" technique can be used to insert a secondary story within the main plot, thus enriching the narrative and offering additional insights to the reader. A famous example of this technique is Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose" ("The Name of the Rose"), in which the main character, William of Baskerville, tells his student Adso of Melk about the investigations he conducts in a mysterious abbey, while at the same time Adso narrates his experience in the manuscript we are reading. This technique allows for a mirror game between reality and fiction, engaging the reader in an intellectual and thought-provoking investigation.

 

Another narrative strategy that can be adopted to enrich a historical novel is to introduce elements of meta-narrative, that is, reflections on the act of writing itself and the nature of literary fiction. A prime example of this technique is Italo Calvino's "If One Winter's Night a Traveler" ("Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore"), in which the author directly addresses the reader, inviting him to reflect on the role of fiction and its ability to give form and meaning to reality. Although this technique may be more complex and sophisticated, it can add an extra layer of depth to your work, stimulating the reader to question the conventions of the historical genre and the veracity of the narratives they read.

 

In conclusion, the choice of specific narrative techniques for your historical novel will depend on the needs of your story and your goals as a writer. Flashbacks, first- or third-person narration, narrative within narrative, and meta-narrative are just some of the strategies that can be adopted to create a compelling work that is consistent with the historical context. Remember that, as an author, your job is to experiment and find the combination of narrative techniques that best fits your vision and literary project. In this way, you will be able to offer readers an engaging and thought-provoking experience that will immerse them in the world of the past and lead them to question the meaning and value of history and fiction.

 

4.3. Create vivid and detailed (and historical) settings.

In creating a historical novel, the ability to develop vivid and detailed settings is critical to engaging the reader and immersing him or her in the time and place in which the narrative takes place. To achieve this, special attention must be paid to historical details, descriptions of dwellings, traditions, social norms, and customs of the period. In addition, it is important to consider the emotional and cultural atmosphere, as the latter contributes to a complete and convincing picture of the historical reality you want to portray.

 

An example of a vivid and detailed setting is found in Gustave Flaubert's novel "Madame Bovary." Flaubert uses meticulous and accurate descriptions to transport the reader to the French province of the 19th century, outlining the habits and customs of the petty bourgeoisie of the time. Through descriptions of landscapes, dwellings, and social settings, Flaubert succeeds in creating a context in which the protagonist's personal drama is intertwined with social and cultural critique.

 

Another example of effective and detailed setting is found in Thomas Mann's novel "The Magic Mountain" ("Der Zauberberg"). Set in a sanatorium located in the Swiss Alps during the first half of the 20th century, Mann meticulously describes the daily routine of the patients, the climate and atmosphere of the place, and the intellectual and philosophical discussions that animate the microcosm of the sanatorium. This precision in describing the environment allows the reader to become fully immersed in the narrative and to understand the historical and cultural context in which the events take place.

 

To create vivid and detailed settings, it is essential to follow a few key principles. First, you must conduct thorough and accurate research into the time and place in which the story takes place. This will enable you to gain a solid and detailed understanding of the historical context and avoid anachronisms or errors that could undermine the credibility of your work. Second, it is important to use evocative and sensory language in your descriptions so as to engage the reader and stimulate his or her imagination. Remember that your goal is to make the reader "see" what you describe, so be careful not to fall into the trap of merely listing details, but rather try to make them vivid and meaningful.

 

Another key aspect of creating detailed settings is the ability to integrate historical details into the plot and dialogue in a natural and coherent way. Avoid including historical information in a didactic or pedantic manner; instead, try to bring out details organically through the actions and interactions of the characters. For example, the customs and traditions of the period can be illustrated through the daily routines of the characters, while social and political tensions can emerge in the dialogues and relationships between the characters themselves.

 

In addition, to make the setting vivid and engaging, it is important to pay attention to even the smallest and seemingly insignificant details. Often, it is precisely these elements that help give depth and authenticity to the narrative. For example, the description of an everyday object, a typical dish, or a particular costume can help the reader immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the era and feel part of the world you are narrating.

 

Another aspect to consider in creating vivid historical settings is the importance of showing the diversity and complexity of historical reality. Often, history is simplified and reduced to stereotypes and generalizations, but it is crucial to remember that each era and place had its own nuances, contradictions, and exceptions. Try to do justice to this complexity by showing the reader the many facets of the historical context you are describing.

 

Finally, it is essential to balance detailed descriptions of the setting with the need to maintain a sustained and compelling narrative pace. Do not be tempted to include excessive descriptions that might weigh down the reading and distract the reader from the main plot. It is important to strike a balance between the need to create a compelling historical setting and the goal of telling an engaging and exciting story.

 

In conclusion, creating vivid and detailed settings in a historical novel is a challenging task, but critical to the success of the work. Through careful research, the use of evocative language, and the ability to integrate historical details into the plot and dialogue, you can transport the reader into the world you want to tell them about and provide them with an immersive and unforgettable reading experience. Remember to pay attention to details, to show the complexity of historical reality, and to balance descriptions with narrative rhythm in order to create a successful historical novel.

 

4.4 Use symbolism and metaphors to enrich the text

The use of symbolism and metaphors is a powerful and versatile tool in historical fiction writing, which can help add depth and complexity to the text, as well as offer the reader alternative and layered keys to interpretation. The use of symbols and metaphors can enrich the text and allow the author to explore universal themes and deeper meanings, often related to human experience and the nature of society and power.

 

An emblematic example of the use of symbolism and metaphors in a historical novel is "The Leopard" by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Set in Sicily during the period of the Risorgimento, the novel tells the story of a noble Sicilian family in decline and the gradual decline of nobility in general. Central to the narrative is the figure of Prince Fabrizio di Salina, known as the Leopard, the very symbol of the decline of the Sicilian aristocracy. The Leopard, an animal known for its elegance and ability to blend in, becomes a metaphor for the Sicilian nobility, which seeks to adapt to historical and political changes while keeping its traditions and privileges intact.

 

The symbolism and metaphors in the novel are not limited to the figure of the gattopardo, but extend to numerous other elements of the text. For example, the description of the battle of Palermo and the death of Garibaldi's soldier in the garden of the Villa Salina represents a moment of deep reflection on sacrifice, violence, and the price of change. The decadence and beauty of the interiors of the Villa Salina, with their faded frescoes and antique furniture, symbolize the passage of time and the waning of an era.

 

In creating a historical novel rich in symbolism and metaphors, it is important, as an author, to pay attention to several aspects. First, it is essential to strike a balance between symbolism and narrative, avoiding weighing down the text with too much symbolic or metaphorical imagery that could come across as forced or didactic. At the same time, it is essential to choose symbols and metaphors that are closely related to the historical context and themes of the novel, so as to give coherence and unity to the work.

 

In addition, it is important to remember that symbols and metaphors need not be explicit or easily identifiable. Often, the most effective symbols are those that gradually reveal themselves to the reader, inviting him or her to ponder and question the nuances and hidden meanings of the text. An example of subtle and layered symbolism can be found in Gustave Flaubert's novel "Madame Bovary," in which the author uses a series of seemingly insignificant objects and details to delineate the character and aspirations of the protagonist Emma Bovary, such as the screen decorated with butterflies and the romance novels she reads passionately. Although these elements are not immediately recognizable as symbols, over the course of the novel they acquire deeper meaning and prove essential to understanding the psychological dynamics of the character and the themes of the work.

 

Another example of a historical novel in which symbolism plays a key role is Lev Tolstoy's "War and Peace." In this grand epic chronicling the lives of the Russian nobility during the Napoleonic Wars, Tolstoy uses a series of recurring symbols to explore themes such as love, death, faith, and the pursuit of happiness. One of the novel's best-known symbols is the moon, which appears at several key moments in the narrative and takes on different meanings depending on the context: sometimes a symbol of hope and rebirth, other times an omen of death and separation.

 

In constructing a historical novel rich in symbolism and metaphors, it is important as a writer to keep in mind that these elements should never overpower or distract from the main plot and characters. On the contrary, the symbols and metaphors must integrate harmoniously with the historical context and narrative, helping to make the text more vivid and evocative and offering the reader new insights and interpretation.

 

Ultimately, the use of symbolism and metaphors in a historical novel is a stylistic choice that can greatly enrich the text and add depth and complexity to the work. However, it is crucial to pay attention to the balance between symbolism and narrative, as well as to the consistency and adherence to the historical context of the chosen symbols and metaphors. In addition, it is essential to avoid burdening the text with too many symbolic images and resorting to forced or didactic solutions, favoring instead a more subtle and layered approach that invites the reader to discover and question the hidden meanings of the work.

 

4.5. Rhythm and suspense in the historical novel

In composing a historical novel, it is essential to be aware of the importance of pacing and suspense in order to keep the reader's interest alive and emotionally involved in the story. As a writer, you will need to pay special attention to the structure and pace of the narrative, as well as the suspense techniques you can use to make your story more compelling and dynamic.

 

A historical novel that excels at handling pace and suspense is Ken Follett's "Pillars of the Earth." Set in the 12th century, the novel follows the construction of a cathedral in England and interweaves political, religious and personal events of the characters. Follett skillfully doses the pace, alternating moments of action with others of introspection, and uses suspense to keep the reader's attention, creating expectations and revelations that fuel their curiosity and involvement.

 

Another example of a historical novel characterized by an excellent balance between pacing and suspense is Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose." The novel is both a detective story and a philosophical reflection on power and knowledge. Eco manages to maintain a brisk pace through the entire narrative through the use of puzzles, twists and turns, and rising tension. The suspense is masterfully handled, driving the reader to want to discover the identity of the murderer and the mystery surrounding the abbey.

 

To achieve an engaging pace and create suspense in your historical novel, it is important to consider several aspects. First, the structure of the narrative must be well organized, with a balance of action, reflection and description scenes. It is also essential to be able to dose events and revelations, avoiding weighing down the narrative with too many twists and turns or, conversely, overdrawing into details or digressions that slow the pace.

 

Another technique that can help you create suspense is to bring out questions and mysteries throughout the narrative that the reader will want to see solved. This can be achieved through the introduction of enigmatic elements, ambiguous characters, or complex and unpredictable situations. Remember, however, that suspense must be functional to the story and consistent with the historical context: it is important to avoid contrived or overly romanticized solutions, which could compromise the novel's verisimilitude and effectiveness.

 

It is helpful to experiment with different narrative styles and techniques to find the right pace and suspense for your historical novel. For example, you might use alternating montage to interweave multiple narrative strands and create tension, or first-person narration to provide a narrow point of view and increase the sense of mystery and uncertainty. The choice of focus, or the degree of closeness between the narrator and the characters, can also influence pacing and suspense: an external focus can provide a broader view of events, while an internal focus can make the story more intimate and engaging.

 

An example of a historical novel that uses internal focus to manage pace and suspense is Tracy Chevalier's "The Girl with the Pearl Earring." The first-person narrative follows young protagonist Griet, who becomes a maid in the house of painter Johannes Vermeer. Through Griet's narrow perspective, the reader is gradually introduced to the mystery surrounding the painter and the growing tension between the characters. This narrative choice contributes to a slow, suspended pace that reflects the introspective and contemplative nature of the novel.

 

In contrast, Lev Tolstoy's "War and Peace" features an external focus that allows a wide range of viewpoints and situations to alternate. The novel, set during the Napoleonic Wars, follows the events of numerous characters and interweaves moments of action and reflection, introspection and description. Tolstoy uses this complex structure to create a varied and compelling pace that keeps the reader's interest and provides a comprehensive overview of historical events and the dynamics among the characters.

 

In conclusion, pacing and suspense are key elements in the construction of a successful historical novel. To best manage them, it is important to pay attention to narrative structure, dose events and revelations, experiment with different narrative techniques and focuses, and strike the right balance between action, reflection, and description. Remember that your goal is to engage the reader and immerse him or her in the historical context of your novel, while providing a compelling and suspenseful story.

 

 

Chapter 5: Conclusions

 

5.1 The publishing market for the historical novel

The publishing market for the historical novel is an ever-evolving field and presents exciting opportunities for authors and fans of this genre. In this section, we will examine the main trends in the publishing market for the historical novel and provide some useful tips for succeeding in this field.

 

In recent years, the historical novel has experienced growing popularity among readers worldwide, thanks to the publication of such successful works as Tracy Chevalier's "The Girl with the Pearl Earring," Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" and Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall." This genre has proven to appeal to a large and diverse audience interested in discovering new perspectives on the past and immersing themselves in compelling stories set in distant eras.

 

According to some estimates, the historical novel accounts for about 10 percent of the global fiction publishing market, with its share growing steadily in recent years. Sales of historical novels have increased both in absolute terms and as a percentage of total fiction sales, thanks in part to the success of emerging authors and the spread of new formats, such as e-books and audiobooks.

 

However, the publishing market for the historical novel is also highly competitive and presents specific challenges for authors who wish to make their way in this field. To be successful, it is essential to develop a professional and strategic approach, including a solid understanding of the market and its dynamics, a network of contacts in the publishing industry, and an active presence at major literary events and festivals.

 

One of the main challenges of the historical novel publishing market is the increasing specialization of readers and publishers, who tend to favor works that focus on particular historical periods, themes or settings. To stand out in this context, it is important to identify a "niche" of interest and develop an original and distinctive publishing proposal that can combine historical accuracy, narrative inventiveness and commercial appeal.

 

In addition, to be successful in the publishing market for the historical novel, it is essential to develop a solid author platform, including an active and consistent presence on major communication and social media channels, participation in literary events and festivals, collaboration with other authors and professionals in the field, and the creation of a network of readers and supporters interested in one's work.

 

 

 

5.3  Checklist

When you decide to tackle writing a historical novel, the approach is similar to any other novel. In WriTribe you will find many resources to improve your skills starting with the "Basics of Storytelling." However, we still want to offer you a checklist that, while rather general, will help you get clear on the key points. Key points that you can expand on in this guide or in other sections of the platform.

 

·      Choose a specific historical period and setting based on one's passion and expertise.

·      Conduct accurate and thorough research on the historical, social, political and cultural context of the chosen era.

·      Develop well-delineated and believable characters, both historical and fictional, taking into account period-specific characteristics and motivations.

·      Organize the structure of the novel, considering options such as linear, nonlinear narration or the use of multiple points of view.

·      Decide on the narrative techniques best suited to your novel, such as flashback, first- or third-person narration.

·      Create vivid and detailed settings specific to the historical novel, enriching the text with carefully researched descriptions.

·      Use symbolism and metaphors to add depth and meaning to the story.

·      Managing pacing and suspense in the historical novel, balancing action, reflection and narrative tension.

·      Revise and rewrite the text, considering revision as an integral part of the writing process and improving the novel's coherence, fluency and effectiveness.

·      Learn about the historical novel publishing market and current trends, identifying a niche of interest and developing an original and distinctive publishing proposal.

·      Build an author platform by actively participating in literary events and communicating with readers and industry professionals through social media and other channels.

·      Prepare to present your work to publishing houses by developing a convincing and professional publishing proposal.

 

 

5.4 Appendix: Bibliography of useful essays and manuals for writing a historical novel

 

  1. Bell, James Scott. "Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure." Writer's Digest Books, 2004.

  2. Dunne, Robert. "Writing the Historical Novel: From the Idea to the Bookshelf." Pen & Sword History, 2021.

  3. Edgerton, Leslie. "Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go." Writer's Digest Books, 2007.

  4. Henty, G. A. "The Art of Writing and the Gifts of Writers." CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.

  5. Hoch, Edward D. "The Historical Mystery: A Writer's Guide." Mystery Scene Press, 1999.

  6. Kowalewski, Laurel A. "Historical Fiction Writing: A Practical Guide and Tool-kit." Compass Books, 2016.

  7. Lukacs, Georg. "The Historical Novel." Penguin Books, 1962.

  8. Morley, Jacqueline. "Writing Historical Fiction: A Writers' and Artists' Companion." Bloomsbury Academic, 2015.

  9. Nye, Robert. "Writing Historical Fiction: A Writers' & Artists' Companion." A&C Black, 2014.

  10. Provost, Gary. "Make Your Words Work: Proven Techniques for Effective Writing - For Fiction and Nonfiction." Writer's Digest Books, 1990.

  11. Rosenfeld, Jordan E. "Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time." Writer's Digest Books, 2007.

  12. Scott, Melissa. "The Historical Novel: A Guide to Research, Writing, and Publishing." McFarland, 2011.

  13. Stegner, Wallace. "On Teaching and Writing Fiction." Penguin Books, 2002.

  14. White, Hayden. "Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe." Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

  15. Wood, James. "How Fiction Works." Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

 

This bibliography includes a number of essays and manuals that cover a wide range of topics related to writing historical novels, from creating compelling characters and plots to using specific narrative techniques and dealing with themes and conflicts. The authors come from diverse backgrounds and offer a variety of perspectives and approaches to writing the historical novel. We hope this list will be a useful starting point for you.


Comments


Copyright WriTribe - All rights reserved

bottom of page