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Writing Teen Novels About Pilots And Flying, by Elizabeth Wein

In 2003 I got my private pilot’s license, and ever since then I have found myself more and more embroiled in writing about flying.  It crept up on me gradually.  I started out with a short story called ‘Chasing the Wind’ (in Sharyn November’s first anthology  Firebirds), which was about a girl who is a passenger in a small plane in Kenya in the early 1950s… I moved from there to ‘Chain of Events’ (in the Reckless issue of Michael Cart’s Rush Hour) in which a girl passenger takes over the command, though not the controls, of a feckless teenage pilot.  It wasn’t until my third short story about flying that I felt confident enough to write about a girl who actually becomes a pilot, and ‘Something Worth Doing’ (in Sharyn November’s Firebirds Soaring) eventually provided the seed for my novel Code Name Verity.

What do these stories have in common?  Well, they’re all about women in flight, and it’s the feminine aspect of piloting that inspires me.  It’s such an unusual activity for a woman, or a girl; I want to spread the word.  I want to inspire others.  I hope that one or two girls who read my stories will think, ‘Hmmm.  Maybe I could do that.’

I couldn’t have written about flying until I knew how to fly.  I wouldn’t have dared.  I still never quite feel sure I’m being as accurate as I need to be, especially since my fictional pilots tend to be more adventurous than I am myself.  But the seed for verisimilitude is there.

You know the old adage, ‘Write about what you know’?  I think it could be more accurately stated, ‘Write about what you love.’  That’s what makes good writing – the personal touch doesn’t necessarily come from first hand experience, but rather from first hand passion.  A writer’s knowledge born of a deep, inquiring interest can be every bit as thorough as knowledge gained through experience.  Do the research; do the fieldwork; learn the language.

Your passion is a gift which you can share – a gift you should want to share.  Your flair for a subject should shine through your writing and inspire your readers.  But be cautious about your expertise.  Not all your readers share your expertise and not all of them will care about it.  The trick is to draw their interest with your story without getting into the nitty gritty of what you know.  You don’t need to describe how a piston engine works in order to describe the thrill of take-off at full power.  Your know-how should be sketched in lightly – let the full extent of your knowledge be readable between the lines only.

There will always be a few people who don’t want to know – who simply aren’t interested in the detailed story you want to share, no matter how passionate that story is.  But I like to hope for the best.  I’ll continue to imagine an ideal reader with an inquiring mind open to new ideas.  Maybe a love of flying will creep up on readers gradually, just as it did on me.

***Write with New York Times bestselling novelist Elizabeth Wein in Hobart, Australia in November 2014

Elizabeth Wein’s author website: www.elizabethwein.com

Elizabeth Wein’s bio page

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Code Name VerityA Coalition of LionsThe Empty Kingdom     Raven SpeakSektion 20Spark

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Plotting My Teen Historical Novels, by Carolyn Meyer

One of the things I like about writing fiction based on historical people and events is that real history provides so many fictional possibilities. Deciding where to start is the first challenge in plotting a novel for teen readers.

The age of the main character is an important decision. Common wisdom has it that young teens want to read about older teens – but not too much older; older teens don’t want to read about younger ones, and they also don’t want to read about characters who are a lot older. The sweet spot seems to be about sixteen. But history doesn’t always cooperate. Sometimes the actual story starts much earlier in the life of the historical person you want to write about.

Mary Stuart became Queen of Scots as an infant, upon the death of her father. I decided to begin The Wild Queen when Mary’s mother sends her off to France at age six to grow up in the King’s court. Would a thirteen-year-old reader decide in the early chapters that Mary is too young to be interesting? It was a risk, but I took it.

Marie-Antoinette is twelve when her story begins in The Bad Queen. Mary Tudor is ten in Mary, Bloody Mary. Her sister, Elizabeth, is thirteen in Beware, Princess Elizabeth, and Anne Boleyn is thirteen in Doomed Queen Anne. Less important than the age is the situation in which the main character finds herself in those opening pages. Sometimes it’s better not to state the age at first; just begin with a situation that grabs your teen reader’s interest.

Conflict drives the plot. The next big challenge is choosing which events provide the most compelling way to tell the story to a teen reader and which events to leave out if they don’t move the story forward.

Teenaged Princess Elizabeth is despised by her older half-sister, Mary. Marie-Antoinette must deal with the ladies of the French court who resent her and want her to fail. Victoria must contend with her demanding mother and her mother’s advisor, Sir John. Young Charles Darwin, in The True Adventures of Charley Darwin, has to confront a demanding father and his own lack of focus. Cleopatra’s jealous sisters, in Cleopatra Confesses, want her dead. Far from home, Mary, Queen of Scots, must adjust to a new environment and make decisions that change the course of her life. As the characters mature, the conflicts they face become even more complicated. The writer’s task is to keep teen readers turning pages.

I don’t try to figure out everything in advance. I simply start writing, trying different approaches until I find one that I think is most engaging. In my first draft of Victoria Rebels, the opening chapter recounted the circumstances leading to the marriage of Victoria’s parents. In a later revision, that material – historically interesting but not the way to launch a plot – was moved to Author’s Notes. The final draft of the story opens with preparations for the wedding of Victoria’s sister and her realization that with her sister gone Victoria will be alone.

Just as I experiment with different starting points, I try out various points at which to end. A satisfactory ending may depend on the age of my readers. The ending of Cleopatra Confesses tends to satisfy younger teens, while older readers want the story to go on.

Sequel, anyone?

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Carolyn Meyer’s author website: www.readcarolyn.com

Carolyn Meyer’s bio page

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Beware, Princess ElizabethThe Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))Cleopatra ConfessesThe True Adventures of Charley Darwin     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Code Name VerityTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Choosing And Voicing Characters For My Teen Historical Novels, by Pauline Francis

I always imagined that I’d write contemporary fiction. When I decided to write for teenagers, I wrote a full-length novel about a young girl with anorexia. It was good - but it lacked a strong voice.

What is the secret of a good character? Why can it take so long to discover what it is?

I felt like an alchemist in search of the great secret: how to change metal into gold. I followed all the rules. I read and read and read (I was a children’s librarian at the time, so I knew what appealed to readers). I was involved in writing abridged classics (Fast Track Classics) for younger readers, so I knew most of the great English and American Classics and why they’d become classics.

But I still didn’t know how to make my fiction better.

I read and re-read my favourite teen authors; Witch Child by Celia Rees, Apache by Tanya Landman, The Road of Bones by Anne Fine (2006) and Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo (2003).

They all have one thing in common - they are historical novels.

I came to understand the author’s voice. …that special ingredient that makes the magic. It’s ME - the author - who must be emotionally part of my writing and that without it, my narrative will be as dull as a base metal, whether historical or contemporary.

I asked myself: what had made me tick emotionally when I was a teenager?

I disliked being a teenager. I felt trapped in a difficult situation - wanting to study and go to University but with a father who believed that girls shouldn’t be educated. I was a rather shy and very thin child, and my family thought I was too serious and hated to see me reading. They believed in lots of fresh air and healthy sport. Lady Jane Grey came into my mind. I knew her from my school history. The little written about her wasn’t very flattering. She was shy, short and very thin – and preferred reading to hunting. Her parents disapproved of her, preferring her beautiful and outgoing sister, Catherine.

You can see where this is going.  I resisted the urge to write about Jane for a while because I’d never planned to write historical fiction. Then I gave in. I decided to make Jane the subject of my first novel because she echoed how I felt as a teenager.

It was unbelievably easy to write about Jane. I understood what made her tick.

She was sold into marriage by her ambitious father to the son of an equally ambitious father-in-law. They both sought power through this fifteen year old girl, because she was close in line to the throne of England. She was manipulated onto the throne and died for it.

I’m sure that my voice echoing through Jane made it the novel it was.

I chose Elizabeth for Traitor’s Kiss because she had to draw on enormous resources as she grew up - and make difficult decisions as I did. She had few people to guide her and this was her great attraction for me.

Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, was the second wife of Henry VIII. He had her executed for suppose adultery when Elizabeth was only two. Everything that belonged to Anne was banned and burned. Her name was never mentioned.

What would it be like to grow up, knowing that your father had killed your mother? What would the gossip be like? As  Elizabeth grew into womanhood, spirited and swarthy skinned like her mother, she attracted attention from men who wanted power (she was third in line for the throne) - especially her step-father, Thomas Seymour. He flirted with Elizabeth. She flirted back. They were seen kissing. Like mother, like daughter? Elizabeth was only fourteen, but banned from court. As her step-father tried to gain power, he was taken to the Tower of London and Elizabeth, by association with him, was interrogated for six weeks.

Elizabeth used all her resources to outwit her interrogators - and to live to be Queen. Although none of these events happened to me, I recognised the kindred spirit in a young girl forced to draw on her own resources.

In between these two novels, I wrote another called A World Away, based on the first British colony to be established in America. It has been well-liked, but it is the least popular of my novels and I think it’s because the voice of my characters doesn’t reflect me.

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Paulines Francis’s author website: www.paulinefrancis.co.uk

Pauline Francis bio page

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The Raven QueenA World AwayThe Traitor's Kiss     Victoria RebelsRaven SpeakRed is for RemembranceAngel Dust

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Writing Characters In Historical Novels For Teens, by Carolyn Meyer

When you start to write a novel, you’re signing on for the long haul. It’s a marriage, or at least a long-term relationship. For at least a year, maybe longer, you’re going to live with your characters, sleep with them, dream about, walk and talk with them. So you’d better love them – especially the principal characters – a lot.

You can write about a historical event, such as the French Revolution, in which the main character is fictional, but I usually tell the story through the eyes of a historically important person, and I begin the story in that character’s youth. When I wrote The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette, I focused on the young teen who much later supposedly said, “Let them eat cake.”

The main character, real or fictional, must be sympathetic, while other characters help her or impede her. If she doesn’t have problems to deal with, if she doesn’t grow and change, you don’t have a story. Marie’s mother provides the early conflict. When Marie leaves Austria at fourteen and arrives in France, a nasty countess makes her life miserable. The hapless French prince she marries condemns her to unhappiness, and the handsome Swedish officer she meets when both are eighteen offers romance and temptation. The events of history and her own flaws propel the story to its tragic conclusion.

I knew that this girl would arouse my sympathies, lead me to despair, and finally bring me to understanding and forgiveness. Marie was a spoiled teenage princess, but the more I learned about her, the more I discovered a character I could fall in love with – and could make my readers understand and forgive her, too.

But how much of it is “true”? I don’t change known facts, but I do invent scenes and dialogue, and sometimes I create a character -a friend or a servant, say – to help tell the story. When I was writing Mary, Bloody Mary, about the eldest daughter of Henry VIII, I invented servants, a female friend, and the boy who was her falconer. In Cleopatra Confesses I created a cast of minor characters, because so little is known about her early life. Not a single soul needed to be added to the cast of Victoria Rebels, or of The Wild Queen, about Mary, Queen of Scots.

You can’t know too much about your characters, but it’s possible to say too much about them. I learned a lot about Victoria’s childhood, when Papa died and left her German Mama alone and penniless. I got caught up with those difficult early days – far more than my teen readers would be – and my editor prodded me to cut the first 30 pages. That was painful, but it improved the story. And I was much more sympathetic to the 12-year-old Victoria than I would have been if I hadn’t gotten to know her so well when she was much younger. The solution is to put everything in your first draft and then be absolutely ruthless and take most of it out. Your characters will survive the surgery, and your teen readers will fall in love with them just as surely as you did.

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Carolyn Meyer’s author website: www.readcarolyn.com

Carolyn Meyer’s bio page

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United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

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The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-AntoinetteThe Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))Victoria RebelsMary, Bloody Mary     I Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeShades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)My Brother's Shadow

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Getting ‘Great Ideas’ For Novels, by Carolyn Meyer

Just to set the record straight: I did not plan any of this. My first published book, Miss Patch’s Learn-to-Sew Book, was a how-to book for little girls. When I was a student, history bored me silly – too many battles, too many treaties, too many old guys in uniforms. Who cared? Not me. I certainly didn’t expect to go on to write more than twenty young adult novels about historic characters, ranging from the Tudor queens to Cleopatra and introducing Mozart’s sister and Degas’ model.

But somehow along the way, as I struggled to find myself as a writer, I discovered that I really liked doing research. It was interesting, even fun, and a lot easier than actually writing. Then one day in a fast-food restaurant in Texas I picked up a pamphlet describing the story of a young white girl captured by Indians and kept for 25 years before being “rescued” against her will by the Texas Rangers. What a story! What a great idea!

An editor thought so, too, and Where the Broken Heart Still Beats was published in 1992.  (It was reissued in 2012 with a new cover.)

But it hasn’t always worked out so neatly. In addition to the published novels, I’ve come up with other “great ideas” unlikely ever to see print. I once visited the little historical museum in my hometown and noticed a handwritten document, an agreement between a girl’s family and a man who wanted to take her on as an indentured servant; after seven years she’d get a bed, a table, and a few other items to set up a household. I thought I had a terrific germ of a novel for teens, but no editor was convinced. Or maybe I simply failed to present the idea compellingly.

The point is that you never know when or where a Great Idea might show up. I didn’t expect to find one in a Dairy Queen in Texas, but there it was.

Sometimes the historical period and the setting kindle the Great Idea (Texas in the 1800s) and sometimes it’s the character (Cynthia Ann Parker is a Texas legend; schoolchildren learn about her in state history class). If I’d pursued the indentured servant idea, I would have had to create the character from scratch.

Google didn’t exist in 1992, nor did online booksellers. Now when a Great Idea is sparked, I check to see if another writer has had a similar inspiration. If the story has already been written, I look up how recently the book was published, and then I decide if my idea is better – or if I can approach it differently.

In order for a Great Idea to fly, you must have a clear notion of your audience. The more accurately you can define your potential teen readers, the more focused your writing will be, and the more likely you are to persuade an editor that this is a Great Idea that will sell.

Victoria Rebels (January 2013) wasn’t even my own Great Idea. I emailed my teen fans for suggestions, they responded enthusiastically, and Queen Victoria got the most votes.

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Carolyn Meyer’s author website: www.readcarolyn.com

Carolyn Meyer’s bio page

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Victoria RebelsBeware, Princess ElizabethWhere the Broken Heart Still Beats: The Story of Cynthia Ann ParkerIn Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's Story     Eleven ElevenKeeping CornerNecromancing the Stone

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

History As Fiction: A Balancing Act, by Diane Lee Wilson

Writers of historical fiction walk a tightrope between accuracy and entertainment, ever seeking balance between the two. It’s a precarious act. Lean too far toward the side of absolute, down-to-the-last-detail accuracy and you risk producing the sort of stale textbook that bores students in history class. But lean too far to the other side in creating a novel of historical fiction, one that plays fast and loose with the facts, and your account loses all credibility. A reader has picked up your book, after all, to read historical fiction and they’re no doubt presuming you’ll present history accurately. So where’s the balance?

Historical fiction begins, of course, with actual events, and these provide a framework on which to hang a story. I find they serve as guideposts too, helping me push the story forward because I know, for example, that I have to get my protagonist from this geographical point to that momentous event in a specific number of days.

But as I’m moving my character along, particulars crucial to daily life demand description. How does an individual start a fire in Norway 868? Mongolia 1281? Boston 1872? Does Viking clothing have pockets? Does a nomad on the steppes pause for a mid-day meal?

I can often write around a fact that can’t be verified—making no mention of lunch or pockets and stating simply “he started a fire” without explaining how. But for me, digging out those details adds spice to the narrative. How people lived in different eras is part of what’s interesting to this genre.

And there’s that key word: interesting. The person reading this work of historical fiction is expecting to be entertained. So how far do you massage the truth in the name of entertainment? Well, I try to keep it within the realm of “reasonably could have happened.” A mixed race boy could have passed as white and ended up riding for the Pony Express. A Viking girl of extraordinary character could have led her clan since she was the chieftain’s daughter. A young Mongol could have bravely confronted Kublai Khan face-to-face, and by finding a human connection, saved her neck. It’s a continual judgment call and one that keeps the reader’s interest at the fore.

A great liberation for me as a writer of historical fiction came upon finding Stephen King’s comments concerning research in his book On Writing: “…don’t end up with the tail wagging the dog; remember that you are writing a novel, not a research paper. The story always comes first.” The timing of that advice could not have been better because I was nearly finished with my novel Firehorse, which takes place in Boston in 1872 but, as is my habit, still poking around libraries and used book stores and the Internet for curiosities. In this instance, unfortunately, I stumbled across an academic website listing the addresses and occupations of everyone who’d lived within a certain Boston neighborhood in the 1870s, a neighborhood I’d already populated with my own fictional characters. What to do? Well, as much as I’m a perfectionist, I had to decide that my account of the events of that year was truthful and by that time complete and that this latest information—even assuming it was accurate (and secretly hoping it contained enough errors to permit my characters to take up residence)—wouldn’t affect the outcome. I would have loved to have confirmed the veracity of the website’s data and perhaps moved my characters down the street but I’ve also learned that there comes a time when a story is done; it’s been created to the best of your abilities and you have to let it go and begin another.

Let me state again that I’m adamant about historical accuracy but I strongly believe that writing historical fiction is ultimately about telling a good story. The most satisfying reviews I receive are when critics comment “meticulously researched” and readers say “couldn’t put it down.” For me, that’s the perfect balance.

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Diane Lee Wilson bio page

TracksRaven SpeakFirehorseJohnny TremainThe Silver SwordPyramid of Secrets (My Story S.)On Writing

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