Someday, the world we live in right now will be the subject of historical fiction. In fifty or sixty years, likely even sooner, authors will write novels that take place in 2010, a year that will seem as alien to tomorrow’s children as 1960 does to kids today. Yet for the most part, we don’t think about how history is being shaped around us. When we think about what’s going on in the world today, we don’t usually consider how it’s going to be recorded in future history books – we consider how it affects our daily lives.
That’s something I try hard to keep in mind when writing historical fiction. I know the historical significance of the events I’m writing about, and it’s tempting to have a character remark on that significance to communicate it to my readers. But in the same way that we don’t see the larger effects of what’s going on in the world today, people from various historical time periods didn’t realize they were living through history. A girl on the home front during World War II would care much, much more about an enlisted friend or family member’s safety than the war’s effect on American culture and politics. In other words, she’d be concerned about how the war affected her personally rather than how it affected the world as a whole. And even though there might have been a few people who realized a historical event’s significance at the time it was happening, in a way I still think it’s better to focus on what an event meant to one person. It adds a measure of humanity that makes any story more compelling.
Do you agree that it’s hard to realize that we’re living through tomorrow’s history today? Do you think historical novels should be about an event’s significance to the world, or to one particular person?
Melissa Luttman is Associate Editor for Young Adult History/Historical Fiction at Wonders & Marvels.