Writing historical fiction

Hat-tip to and : Sally Zigmond’s collection of rules for writing historical fiction, a genre I occasionally enjoy:

1) The Top Ten Rules for Writing Prehistoric Fiction
The males will be given easily pronounceable one-syllable names because, as we all know, language was more primitive back then. Female names will be similar to male names with the addition of the letter ‘a’ on the end All names should form part of the vocabulary of any normal 21st-century infant, e.g., Dog and Ooga.

2) Rules for Classical-Set Fiction
Barbarians must always be portrayed as politically-correct Noble Savages, especially if Celtic. They must embrace sexual equality and be in total harmony with Nature and the Mystic Elements.

3) Rules for Arthurian fiction
All inhabitants of Roman Britain must have suddenly reverted back to being ‘Celts’ as soon as the Roman army and administration withdrew from the island.

4) Official Rules for Writing “Feminist Re-Imagings & Re-Imaginings” Historical Novels
All goddess worshippers are pacifistic, politically-correct, and ecologically sound.

5) Official Rules for Writing Medieval Fiction
The Saxons who are the bad guys of the Arthurian stories magically turn into good guys in 1066 when the nasty Normans invade. Then they turn into the English and become bad guys again.

6) Rules for historical fiction about Edward II (a minority interest, surely?)

7) Ten More Rules, involving sex and Richard III
If a woman is beautiful and a man handsome, their first sexual encounter must be ecstatic and multi-orgasmic for both, no matter how inexperienced, intoxicated, or tired one or both parties are or how inhospitable the setting is. Any children born of the encounter will be wild and free, like Nature herself.

8) Rules for Writing Scottish Romances
There must be at least one scene where the hero shows the heroine the beauty of his country by dragging her along over mountains and stones, through heather and moor, until he finds a river where he can catch some salmon with his bare hands. Romantic dinner ensues.

9) Official Rules for Writing Victorian Historical Novels
Britain was a smaller place then. It consisted only of The Industrial North (Yorkshire, Manchester and South Shields) and London (West End, sleazy and rich; East End, sleazy and poor, but full of loveable rogues).

10) All-purpose rules
If your heroine becomes pregnant, she must always be astonished, in spite of everything that has happened in the last six chapters.

and also rules for writing Ripping Yarns set in British India:
All hairy naked wandering holy men are in fact English public school types in disguise.

Good stuff, and a warning against cliche in any genre.

One thought on “Writing historical fiction

  1. I suspect that you meant The Final Problem, rather than The Final Solution, which was a good deal less enjoyable for all concerned.

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