What I learned at SCBWI: Crafting historical fiction

Wow! What a great weekend I had. I attended my first writer’s conference – the SCBWI Spring retreat in Temecula, CA. It was so invigorating being there, listening to four different children’s editors talk about publishing, what they look for, the craft of writing, etc.

Believe it or not…the entire time I was there…I was thinking of you guys. Yep, I was. So I decided to rearrange blog posts for the next couple of weeks so I could do a series this week on the various things I learned and affirmed this weekend.

So, here we go….

Today’s Topic:  Historical Fiction.

Eve Adler, Associate Editor with Henry Holt books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillon, gave a great talk on the art of crafting historical fiction for children. This is true for realistic historical fiction, and those with paranormal or fantasy elements.  She outlined seven elements of a compelling historical story:

  • A main character with a stong voice –  this is a theme every editor talked about. I will talk more about voice later this week
  • Strong writing – another theme from the weekend, regardless of genre or market
  • A tight plot with consistent pacing that moves the story along – yep, you guessed it…no matter what the talk was about, this was another one of those themes that kept surfacing. I will address plot specifically, and beginnings later on this week
  • Evocative, memorable scenes – ah-huh….another theme.

No matter what we seemed to be talking about – beginnings, creating characters, voice, whatever…these four elements kept repeating. Bottom line – it doesn’t matter what you are writing, if the writing is not strong, if the pacing is not tight, if there is no voice, and if the scenes are not memorable and evocative, the story may still need work.

Now, what ideas were unique to historical fiction? The next three things really could be said for fantasy as well, but Eve specifically related them to historical pieces:

  • Time period details and language that enhanced the story. The key – moderation. These details should be sprinkled in – enough to add to the story and ground the reader to the time frame, but not so much so that it becomes a barrier to the reader.
  • Intriguing setting – look for a setting that the reader will find interesting, intriguing. Tightly weave that world-building into the story.
  • Accurate research – oh yes, I said the dreaded “r” word. With this time of fiction, the period details should be accurate.

There you have it…the basics on crafting historical fiction. Stop by tomorrow for more great SCBWI knowledge!

7 thoughts on “What I learned at SCBWI: Crafting historical fiction

  1. awesome, thanks! Historical fiction was my first love and I know I’ll go back to it time and again, no matter what else I may write in the meantime🙂 Thanks for the tips!

  2. Lua

    Great advice and very useful information, thank you for sharing this… I love reading historical fiction but writing it is very challenging!
    Sounds like you had an amazing time at the conference and thanks again for not forgetting us!🙂

  3. Oooh, nice! I’m working on these themes as we speak!😉

    Sounds like you had a great time. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned! *can’t wait til tomorrow for next post!*

  4. Ooh, good points! I write fantasy, and as you noted, these are very applicable to that genre as well as historical fiction. Especially the bit about sprinkling in details so they add a sense of authenticity without being a barrier to the reader. Thanks for the post!

  5. A have always love good historical fiction. I bow to those who write it as I know how much time it takes to do research and get things right. Great info. Thanks.

  6. Pingback: Week’s Links… « Diamond–Yup, Like the Stone

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