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The Process of writing a historical Novel

If you’ve moseyed on over from the Pikespeakwriters.blogspot.com, welcome to my website. If you’ve stumbled upon my site, welcome too! Today we’re going to talk about those crazy ideas you have for your historical fiction. We’ll also touch upon the logline again, to be clear why it’s so important.

So, where do your ideas come from? Are you inspired by a book you read? Or, maybe a comic book/graphic novel? How about a film you saw, or a television show you watched? All of these are legitimate inspiration for your book. But before you crank up your word processor and begin writing, let me say this first.

Inspiration is not enough.

You have to do the hard work of forming and shaping this idea into a story.

Stories have several components. There is character, plot, setting, conflict and theme. Usually, when I get excited about an idea, it’s because one of these story elements have danced in my head over and over again. Which is it for you?

Do you have a major or minor character that you keep fantasizing about? A plucky immigrant with guts? Or maybe a girl blossoming into womanhood who must now act as a spy when she should be playing with make-up?

Or, do you have a plot in mind? A twist that sticks out in your head? (It wasn’t the butler, it was the masseuse!)

Or, do you have an idealized setting taking up all your time? Maybe it’s the Peninsular Campaign of the Napoleonic Wars? Perhaps you are fascinated by the culture of 4th century Persia?

Perhaps you see a conflict? Maybe a political movement that splits families, like abolition did in the U.S., or Suffrage did in Britain? Maybe you envision a particular war as the conflict in your story? Keep it. Use it.

Finally, there is theme. The argument you are trying to make in your story. The actions of your characters can all represent this theme. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the theme revolves around the myth of the protective slave owner. That slavery is bad because the owner will always put his or her self-interest above that of the slave, regardless how kind they are.

In The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, the theme is that you can’t trust capitalists with the best interests of the people. They will poison your food, fire you, and take advantage of you.

Whatever your starting point, you need to tease the story out. You need to develop this idea you have and make sure it connects with the others.

If your starting point is with a character, ask that character some questions. Find out what makes that character unique. What are his or her strengths? What makes them likable? What are their weaknesses? (Weaknesses are particularly important because the best stories are sometimes about characters discovering their weaknesses and overcoming them.)

Let me tell you about my first manuscript, The Gallowglass.

First of all, Gallowglass are a hereditary mercenary class of soldiers that existed in Ireland up through the middle of the 17th century. My story takes place in Ireland, towards the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign in 1597. It just so happened that a MAJOR rebellion against English rule was occurring at the same time. That is the setting of my story. So how did I get here?

I was watching The Last of the Mohicans starring Daniel Day Lewis. There was that one battle, towards the middle of the film? The Massacre at Ft. William Henry? Yeah. That battle scene was EPIC! I was 21 when that film came out and it haunted me.

A couple of years later I read a book called The Twilight Lords, by Richard Berleth. It described the rebellion against English rule in the 1590s. The stories in that book captivated me. The story of Anglo-Irish lords trying to carve out some independence from England. The futile attempts at converting the Irish to Protestantism. The fear of Spain getting seriously involved in Ireland. Why hadn’t anybody turned this into a film?

In the book Berleth writes about the greatest defeat of the English under a Tudor monarch. It happened in the county of Ulster and is called The Battle of the Yellow Ford. I read Berleth’s account and it reminded me a lot of The Massacre at Ft. William Henry. So much so I started writing a screenplay in 1995. Then a book, in 1998. None of it came to any fruition. I finally got serious about it in 2015. I wrote a first draft – which was awful. It had all the mistakes you shouldn’t make in a book; head hopping, bad grammar, no central character and no action.

So in January of 2016 I decided I would settle in on one POV character. I would focus in on action and tension. I then added a love interest.

For me, a setting or conflict wasn’t enough. I had to figure out whose story I was telling and why I was telling it. I had to do the work of crafting a story.

This is why a logline is so important to your book. It will focus your attention on what your story is about. It will bring you back to the heart of your story. So let’s review the logline formula again.


An adjective to describe the protagonist

An adjective to describe the antagonist

A compelling goal we identify with as human beings

It should offer the most conflict in the situation

Show the protagonist has the longest way to go emotionally.



I hope this has been helpful. Next week I’ll have a book review for you. Next month at PikesPeakWriters.blogspot.com, I’ll talk about organizing your story before you write.


Have a great day!

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