Monday, November 28, 2011

Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

Today our guest is Sean McLachlan, who recently released his Civil War novel A Fine Likeness. I've admired Sean for years, and he's been a loyal FundsforWriters reader just as long. Sean has made a nice career out of writing about travel and history, an accomplishment to be quite envious of. He’s written several books on history and the Civil War, and today shares his ideas about writing historical fiction. For more about Sean, see his blog Civil War Horror. I know there are a lot of history and historical fiction writers in the FFW family, so read and learn . . . 


Tips for Writing Historical Fiction
by Sean McLachlan

Our ancestors thought differently. . .

One of my protagonists, Captain Addison of the Union army, grieves for his son killed in battle. It’s not the first child he’s lost, and in one scene he thinks about them.

“It wasn’t fair. . .A month shy of his nineteenth birthday. A father had to expect to lose a child or two. That was the way things were—the two infants born still, poor little Janet who died of yellow fever before reaching her second year—you expect that. It was hard but you expect that. But to lose a child who had so recently become a man, who you’d taught to tie his shoes and ride a horse, who you saw sparking his first girl at your neighbor’s barn raising, that was too much.”

Before modern medicine, Addison’s experience was all too common. So the next time someone starts talking about the “good old days”, remind them that in those good times parents actually expected to see their children die.

. . .but weren’t all that different

My other protagonist, Jimmy Rawlins, is an 18 year-old Confederate guerrilla. He’s far from home and constantly thinks about the girl he left behind. And what does he think of when he thinks of her? Sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex. In that regard, teenagers then were no different than teenagers now. This being the 19th century, however, Jimmy’s never actually had sex. His best friend Morgan has slept around some, boys will be boys after all, and constantly ribs Jimmy about his greater prowess. 

Details, Details, Details

Details bring the past to life. In the 1860s, a common way to sign a formal letter was “I am, sir, your most obedient servant.” You even see this in letters from superior officers to their subordinates and between enemy officers. A member of my writing group questioned whether a general would sign a letter to a captain in this manner, so I realized I needed to explain it within the text. This is Addison’s reaction after yet another letter from General Brown refusing Addison’s request for better weapons. 

“Addison always viewed this common form of signing a polite letter as unashamedly false and stupid. If Brown was his most obedient servant, he would have sent the damn pistols when he asked for them and kept him from having to loot his neighbors.”

About A Fine Likeness

A Confederate guerrilla and a Union captain discover there’s something more dangerous in the woods than each other.

Jimmy Rawlins is a teenaged bushwhacker who leads his friends on ambushes of Union patrols. They join infamous guerrilla leader Bloody Bill Anderson on a raid through Missouri, but Jimmy questions his commitment to the Cause when he discovers this madman plans to sacrifice a Union prisoner in a hellish ritual to raise the Confederate dead.

Richard Addison is an aging captain of a lackluster Union militia. Depressed over his son’s death in battle, a glimpse of Jimmy changes his life. Jimmy and his son look so much alike that Addison becomes obsessed with saving him from Bloody Bill. Captain Addison must wreck his reputation to win this war within a war, while Jimmy must decide whether to betray the Confederacy to stop the evil arising in the woods of Missouri.

$4.99 at the Kindle store in the US and £3.65 at the Kindle store in the UK! Print, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords editions coming soon.

How to contact Sean:

Twitter: @WriterSean


Civil War Horror (Sean McLachlan) said...

Thanks for having me Hope! Yours is one of the blogs I check daily.

Hope Clark said...

I'm honored, Sean. I've always admired your work - smart, hard work leading to books and credits.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You nailed the sex thing!