By: Jason Henry Evans
Hello, gentle reader. This month on the historical fiction blog, I am writing about finding your niche in historical fiction.
You’ve got that great idea for a story. You’ve fantasized about the clothes your characters wear, the horses they ride and the type of weapons they carry.
STOP! Stop right there! Before you go and write ten thousand words, think about your story and ask yourself these questions:
What is the Conflict?
Every story begins and ends with conflict. What is the protagonist struggling against? What are they trying to overcome? Is the conflict centered on a person (Person v. Person)? A group of people, (Person v. Society)? A place (Person v. Nature)? Or an internal struggle (Person v. Self)? Are there multiple conflicts going on (A protagonist fighting an unjust system while struggling with an ally for control of a political group)?
Who is your Protagonist?
Many times we have ideas in our head about what a good story should look like. Many of those times it’s based off of our experiences with books and movies we’ve watched and read. The stories we envision sometimes are simply duplicates of what we’ve read or scene before. (Which is a natural part of the writing process. We all do it.)
What would make your story interesting is if you shift your point of view. A war story from the perspective of a refugee is pretty common today. A war story told by the villain, and justifying their villainy might be unique.
What is your Time Period?
This can be really hard. Not because certain time periods require a certain amount of research. Nor is it because you have to get every little detail from a time period absolutely perfect. The real reason is this: We as writers get it in our heads that our story belongs in a certain setting. Many times we are probably wrong.
Let’s face it, if we want to be professional writers, then we have to know about market saturation. We have to know about certain time periods that are overwhelmed with stories. English Regency romance about a destitute woman who finds love and regains her stolen estates? Overdone. American Revolutionary War about orphan boy who finds himself in the middle of two armies? We’ve read that.
Stop. Just stop.
Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Find a niche that is both familiar to your potential audience, yet interesting and creative.
Aimie Runyan took a basic story about frontier farm living in her novel Promised to the Crown, and turned it on its head by setting it in 17th century Quebec. All the tropes of frontier fiction, just twisted a little.
Want to write a mystery set in Victorian London? You want to write about the opulence of high society, while the poor suffer in the street? You want political intrigue? OK. Why not choose another time? How about 1820’s London? How about the London of 1665, during the last big outbreak of Bubonic Plague? What a backdrop THAT would be!
Choose your Setting.
Finally, if you’re really set on a time period, like Renaissance England, or World War II, why not flip the story upside down and write about a different setting? The American Revolutionary War is a grand time period for a story, but instead of your story taking place in Boston or Charleston, could it be set Quebec? (Remember, Benedict Arnold led an expedition up there in 1775.) That mystery in Victorian London? I bet a story set in Victorian upper crust of Bombay or Hong Kong would be even more decadent and mysterious than one set in London.
I know from personal experience that writing historical fiction can be both exciting and rewarding. I also know that when I wrote my first story, I didn’t think too much about setting, or time or conflict. It was a painful lesson I learned as I got pummeled in my critique group. But I learned. If you can hold off on writing that story, do the research to avoid over-saturated markets, then you can write a novel that is closer than you think to getting published.
Jason Henry Evans: Life is funny. In 2004 I moved from Los Angeles to Denver, newly married with a desire to be a great teacher and husband. I dedicated myself to public education and realized my heart was not in it. So I moved on. At the same time I stumbled into a creative world of art and literature I now call home. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been worthwhile.
You can catch up with Jason on his Facebook Author Page or on Twitter. You will also find up to date posts on his blog.