Thursday, October 25, 2012

Writing about Real Historical Characters

by Alexa Schnee

Alexa Schnee has always wanted to be a writer. She loves the smell of the bookstore, because nothing in the world smells exactly like it. When she isn’t writing, she’s murdering some musical instrument or hitting the road. She will never, ever like math and will always love dancing in the Montana rain. She is currently attending Sarah Lawrence College near New York City.

Hey, everyone! My name is Alexa and I’m going to talk about the difficulties you can sometimes face when writing about real historical characters. It may seem daunting at first when you’re taking on writing about a real historical figure, but if you know what you are getting into, it doesn’t seem nearly so bad once you are writing.

Getting your facts straight. When writing historical fiction, especially when you are going to include real people, you should always make sure you do the most research possibly you can. You want to make sure that you have most everything correct, including the dates when these characters were born, died, how many children they had, etc. It’s extremely important that you know all these things so when you sit down to write you aren’t playing with historical fact unwillingly.

But you can play with it willingly. One of the fantastic things about writing historical fiction is that is fiction. Think of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The author took the well-known facts about Lincoln and twisted them so they fit the story that he wanted to tell. All the major important dates and instances in Abraham Lincoln’s life were there, but we also had them told to us in a new (and quirky) way.

Stay true to fact, or not? When you’ve run into a problem (the dates don’t fit in with the story you’re trying to tell, the actual historical character did something in the past you don’t want your character to do), I would recommend that you always stick with what truly happened. It may not be easy to craft the story you want to tell around actual historical fact, but your readers will appreciate the effort you put toward upholding the memory of the real historical character.

Lastly, have fun. Honestly, writing historical fiction can be so much fun. You are completely transported to another world and are allowed to hang with some of the greatest people who ever lived. Also remember, these characters are a part of you. Though they may have been real people in the past, and as long as you respect them by acknowledging the major facts and events in their life, these are now your characters—and feel free to get to know them as well as any other character you may have created.

Learn more about Alexa's recent release:

For centuries, readers have debated the identity of the mysterious Dark Lady in William Shakespeare's sonnets. Emilia Bassano -- lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth and one of the first women poets in England -- could be the answer.

In Shakespeare's Lady, Emilia Bassano is one of the most dazzling ladies at court when she meets the little-known playwright William Shakespeare. Shakespeare sees the world like no one ever has before, and despite everything -- his wife in Stratford-Avon, Emilia's husband and young son, and the will of the fiery and unpredictable queen -- they fall in love. But the course of true love never did run smooth, and the Virgin Queen does not take lightly to her ladies straying. These star-crossed lovers must fight for their love -- and, eventually, their lives. Meanwhile, William, courting the queen's favor for his new theater.


  1. Thanks for the helpful tips! I love reading historical fiction, and I've tried writing it once or twice. So these are great to know! :)

  2. These tips are really great! I am currently working on a historical piece and so I got super pumped reading the title! Thanks for the tips!

  3. Thanks, you guys! I love to hear that there are other young writers interested in historical fiction. And thanks to Stephanie, too! It looks great.

  4. Sweetness!! I love historic fiction.

  5. I love writing historical fiction. I haven't tried giving real people major rolls in any of my stories yet, though.

    Quick question. You aren't by any chance represented by Books & Such, are you? The cover of your book looks familiar, and I know Rachel Kent represents up a young writer.

    1. Hey, Leah!

      That's funny that you noticed that. Rachel is my agent. She has been so fabulous for me and for this book. I couldn't have done any of it without her!

  6. I love reading historical fiction (especially when there's an awesome story going on behind it and it's not all boring, plain fact). Writing it? I'm not so good though. :) Your book looks amazing!

  7. Thanks for the tips!
    My current story is steampunk, and while it doesn't feature actual historical characters, it's still important to do research about the historical elements of it.
    This article will be useful.