Fictionalizing history is writing about time. Time provides answers as to how people lived in the past as well as giving us the roots of contemporary laws, customs, and political ideas. The accuracy of, “you can’t know where you are going unless you know where you have been” holds true. Historians realize history does repeat itself, though with different permutations. This repetition helps bring about change and sound governmental policies.
The best historical fiction works on the premise of “What if you were there at the time?” Good historical fiction has a strong internal logic and is easy for youngsters to follow. The story must contain a quest. The characters must have a clear idea of what they desire or fear. They must be wholly rounded as if living in the present, and the reader must be able to identify with them. Good historical fiction balances a character’s flaws with qualities we can respect and admire, and gains sympathy for them. The best historical fiction is seamless. Though the background has been carefully researched, this should not show. The characters must live in their time as easily as you live in yours. Above all, only use your research as part of your story. Remember the first rule of writing: SHOW DON’T TELL.
I have written 8 historical novels for young readers. I fictionalised the lives of Australia’s First Fleet in “My Australian Story: Surviving Sydney Cove”; wrote about the Great Depression in “Mavis Road Medley”; about the little known Moslem discovery of Uluru in “The Youngest Cameleer”; explored the First World War for very young readers in “Gallipoli Medals”; and imagined life in Melbourne just before World War Two in “Lilbet’s Romance”. ‘That Stranger Next Door’ centres on the Australian equivalent of the mid-fifties McCarthy Senate inquiries. ‘My Holocaust Story: Hanna’, is set in the Warsaw Ghetto. Shortly to be released is ‘Changing History?’ a reworking of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, a time warp set in both the present and 1928 Berlin – a year that in many ways is similar to the present. It will appear under the general title of SHAKESPEARE NOW! A TRILOGY,
Writers are often chastised for writing about the past – as if only 21st Century problems are relevant, as if writing fantasy is the only way we can persuade youngsters to read. But history is never out of fashion and fictionalizing it, is the best way of ensuring that some understanding of past mistakes might prevent them happening again.
For details of Goldie’s many books go to www.goldiealexander.com