Like nearly everything else in life, it seems that writing historical fiction comes with its own set of rules. While browsing the Internet, I discovered an article entitled “Seven Rules for Writing Historical Fiction,” by Elizabeth Crook, the author of three historical novels. Crook’s article is intended for authors of historical fiction in general, but I found some of her rules especially applicable to writing for children.
At first glance, Crook’s first two rules—“Sweat the Small Stuff” and “Cut the Ballast”—seem to contradict one another. In reality, though, both are vital to a good novel for young readers. As a historical fiction author, you need to know virtually everything about your time period in order to write accurately; after all, you don’t want to give your readers a false impression of history. At the same time, though, all of the details you learn don’t have to make their way into your book. Kids have notoriously short attention spans, and if you bog them down with information they don’t want or need to know, they’re likely to put the book down.
The idea of including only necessary details echoes in Crook’s sixth rule, “Don’t Get Bogged Down by Back-story.” You need to know the entire back-story, of course, but your readers only need it to a certain extent. Kids in particular like their books to open at a fast pace. If you devote your first chapter entirely to the back-story, you’ll quickly bore and lose your readers.
What do you think about Crook’s set of rules? Are there any other rules you would say are important in historical fiction for kids?
Melissa L. is the YA Editorial Assistant for Wonders and Marvels. You can read more about her here: Editorial Staff.