Why Writing Historical Fiction Matters (to me)

Cliches. There are so many cliches that come to mind when you’re trying to figure out how to start a blog post about writing (in general). It falls under that “nothing new under the sun” mantra.

It’s like comparing every scifi show or book you read to the “Big Three” of the genre – Star Trek, Star Wars and Dr. Who. If you’re a long time reader of this blog or my Twitter, you already know that I’m more than a bit dorky.

My dork levels in science fiction aside, I’ve come to realize a new passion in my own writing journey – researching Pennsylvania history. Have you ever watched those shows on the Discovery or History Channels and wonder why they interview experts on seemingly crazy topics?

It’s because this world is HUGE. That might be a common sensical statement, but how can a historian possibly know EVERYTHING, unless they’ve got an incredibly high IQ? That’s definitely not me. And I know “sensical” isn’t even a word.

So when I got the idea for The Firedamp Chronicle series I knew right away that research would be involved. Intense research. To run the risk of including a cliche here, “In order to write history, you need to know history.” I’m paraphrasing that, of course, but I didn’t even feel qualified to write any of it until I knew about it. So here are three reasons why writing historical fiction matters to me personally.

To Not Forget

On September 11, 2001, the world witness horrific loss of life during the attacks on the World Trade Towers, the United States Pentagon, those on Ground Zero and those on the affected flights. I was in my 9th Grade Physical Science class when it happened. In high school. My dad can count with his fingers how many events in history he remembers. Things like the assassination of JFK, when the Berlin Wall Fell and when the Challenger Explosion happened.

There are many who will never know them like those who saw them unfold their eyes. That’s why I choose to learn more about my own State’s history (ahem…Commonwealth…but that’s just a Pennsylvanian technicality). Which leads to the next point:

To Learn Something New

There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.

Harry S. Truman

Libraries. They’re fantastic places, right? You can check out anything you want and no one will judge. And, depending on the size of your library, they usually have a rather sizable non-fiction department. Section 975. That’s where I found myself for three years in Pennsylvanian history. I emailed the research team at the Library of Congress for tiny details and I borrowed books from institutions outside the Allegheny County system.

Because I was learning things about my own city, county and state I never knew existed.

The more I learned the more I realized how watered down the courses I took in grade school and college really were. Sure, I learned new things there, but you can easily spend a whole semester on a topic like “Christmas Traditions from Around the World” and still just graze the surface.

If you’re going to write about history, KNOW that history. Know it inside and out. Backwards and forwards. All the way through. That way, when you’re asked about why you chose specific events or a specific time period, you’ll be able to satisfy their curiosity.

To Hone Research Skills

Call me OCD if you like, but I love going down the rabbit hole of research. As I mentioned earlier, I learned to utilizes resources I never even knew existed before beginning this journey.

In high school I was never a concise writer. To this day I have to work long and hard to get a sentence write. (I’m going to leave that because that’s such a Freudian Slip! I totally meant to use the word “right”).

Not only have I been researching countless people, events, the origins of objects and the like, I’ve also been *attempting* to reteach myself the English language. I’m sure my fallacies are evident in this blog post but I’m working on them. Just like I’m learning to hone my research skills to keep myself focused on the subject and not irrelevant things.

So there you have it. Three reasons why I write historical fiction. There are more but that would make this post far too long and you may/may not lose interest!

Do you write? What genre? Why did you choose it? Knowing the answers to these questions will guide you through your own writing journey. I wish you luck as you find your niche, your drive and success!

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