Principles of Strong Historical Fiction

R. Clifton Spargo / photo by Susannah Shive

Photo by Susannah Shive

What are the rules for what can and can’t be done with historical fiction? How much license can a writer take with the facts?

In the latest Glimmer Train bulletin, author R. Clifton Spargo offers a few “rules” for historical fiction writers, including:

There’s no reason to abide by the scripts of biographies and histories. Why not take your characters off the grid? Almost anything can happen once Scott and Zelda tour a derelict bullfighting ring, or stay in a Havana hotel made famous by Hemingway, or find themselves escorted by a mysterious Cuban and his girl to a Havana juke joint—even if the real-life Zelda and Scott never visited, as far as we know, any of these places.

To read more advice from Spargo, click here.

Other features this month from Glimmer Train:

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration.
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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2 Comments on "Principles of Strong Historical Fiction"

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Mary Burns
The Spargo column interested me. (Except that in his photo he looks so angry!) I am not a die hard fan of historical fiction. Too much of it seems to reflect a desire on the part of the author to keep all the research visible. One of my favourite historical novels is The Bird Artist, by Howard Norman. I like the way he just dropped me into the time period and I felt I was living then. Barry Unsworth’s book, The Sacred Hunger affected me the same way. Those were the two inspirations for my first historical novel, finished a… Read more »
Johney Gooch

What is the possibility of publishing a biography! Please tell me I need to know.