on Writers Helping Writers:
As writers of historical fiction, we might be tempted to believe our job is to teach readers about a certain event or era. While that might be part of what we’re doing, I would argue it’s not the most important part. The number one job of a fiction writer is to tell a story. A history textbook tellsabout history, but historical fiction should bring it to life by showing it. That’s our true mandate. It’s the difference between reading a menu and eating the meal.
But historical fiction doesn’t make this easy. Sometimes facts and figures need to be included; there are real events and people to take into account.
The thing we’re striving for in fiction is authenticity. We want our work to have the ring of truth to it. To that end, research is crucial. If we don’t do our research as historical fiction writers, we lose credibility with our readers. But researching comes with its own pitfalls. Information is dry and boring to read. The trouble is, we authors can get pretty fired up about our research. It’s cool stuff, plus we’ve worked hard to find it. The temptation is to use as much of it as we can. Indeed, the more research we’ve done, the more strongly we’ll feel about this.
But there’s a good chance that, for the sake of the story, a sizable amount of our research will never make it into the novel. We need to make our peace with that because research can easily get in the way of good storytelling. We’ll want to find a way to weave our research into the story seamlessly.
If we don’t, we’re likely to end up with an info-dump.