Writing Historicals for the Modern Reader

Posted by October 31st, 2011

Book Country Twitter Chat (October 20, 2011)

Bestselling author Sarah MacLean and literary agent Sara Megibow discuss how to make your historical accurate and accessible for today’s reader

 twitter_newbird_boxed_blueonwhite Writing a historical novel of any genre is a challenge like no other. It involves hoards of research, keen attention to detail, and an accurate and vivid portrayal. On top of all that, you have to make the story and characters interesting and relatable to readers in today’s day and age. Like I said, not easy! But we’ve gotten some inside info and tips from the pros–Sarah MacLean (@SarahMacLean) and Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow), who both have backgrounds in genre fiction and in history!–on how to tackle the big task.

Sarah MacLean is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling historical romance and young adult author. Her first bestseller, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake shot on to the bestseller lists with a vengeance and each of her historicals since have hit both lists and received glowing reviews.

History-lover Sara Megibow  is an agent at the Nelson Literary Agency, where she represents a variety of authors and
genres: historicals, YA, romantic fantasy, romance, and much more.

Here’s a little taste of what their Twitter chat had to offer:


@sarahmaclean: Making a book *too* historical can be a problem. Research can become an infodump fast.

@SaraMegibow: One reason I love reading historicals (YA, romance, fantasy, etc) is because it’s a mirror into a world I can only imagine.

@ECLamb: [Details should be] accurate enough not to call attention to themselves. Reader should never be pulled out of story to ask “What?””

@lilithsaintcrow: If you do not believe in your world and characters, nobody else will.

@sarahmaclean: If you break the rules [of the setting], you’d better know [the rules]. And know why you’re doing it.

@SaraMegibow: Personally, I wouldn’t shop a book set in 1963 as historical. I would shop as commercial fiction set in 1963.

@OliviaKelly: There is a fine line between making it sound authentic and throwing in historical terms just because you can.

@IsobelCarr: Good worldbuilding skills are just as necessary for realistic
historicals as they are for believable SF/F.

@sarahmaclean: Books are as much about the time in which they are set as they are about the time in which they are written.

@SaraMegibow: write a great book, do your research and read in your genre.

If you missed the chat, though, don’t worry! You can open or download the entire transcript as a PDF here. It will open in your browser and you’ll be able to save it to your computer if you like. You can also get to know your fellow genre fiction lovers by clicking directly on their Twitter handles.

Please note that the chat appears from newest to oldest tweets, so start on the last page and work your way up to the first.

Thanks to all who took the time to share their experiences and advice!

REMEMBER: Book Country Twitter chats occur every other Thursday night from 9-10 pm EST. Just use the hashtag #bookcountry to participate or follow along. Topics are announced in advance in the Book Country Discussion forums, so be sure to take a look!

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