GUEST POST: Writing Realistic Historical Characters

Hello everyone and Happy New Year!  I’m delighted to introduce the lovely Emily Murdoch, historical fiction author of Conquests: Hearts Rule Kingdoms.  Welcome aboard Emily and thank you for joining us today…

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Written by Emily Murdoch

Now, sometimes writing realistic characters at all can be something of a challenge. Your eyes hurt, and you look over the page that you’ve just written, and you realise that no one would really feel that. Your protagonist just doesn’t feel real, and you don’t even like your hero. You’ve got to put some more background in to make that work, and so you trawl backwards, looking for a moment in which to add some detail, to make that person real.

It can be even harder when you are writing historical fiction. One of the complaints us historical writers usually get is along the lines of, “How can you write that – you don’t know how people of that era would think!”

Well, yes and no. Firstly, let’s not forget that as my characters are fictional, it is in some ways irrelevant that no one thought in that way during that time. I know that: that’s why it’s fiction. There are some historical authors that use this as a get-out-clause, and in some respects I think they are right. We are not writing biographies, we are writing stories.

But then again, you also have writers that include real historical personages within their writing. I’m one of them: in my historical novel Conquests: Hearts Rule Kingdoms, I not only have two fictional protagonists drawn completely from my imagination, but also cameos from King William the Conqueror.

Have I met William the Conqueror? Sadly, no. There is also very little written by him that has survived, and those things that have are generally orders to have someone executed, or land re-distribution.

So my second point is research. Even when it doesn’t seem to matter, do your research. It will usually tell you what a person looks like, how they treated other people, and whether they were well liked (or loathed). Even simple things like a person’s relative height can tell you about their walk, whether they stoop when entering a building, how difficult it is to mount a horse.

You should also have some idea of the morality of the time, the etiquette of table manners, the forms of address that one would have to use. Every time you use something based on this information in your writing, it’s a signpost to your readers that says, “I know what I’m talking about.” Yes, these ‘facts’ may not appease some of our readers, but it’s as close as we’re going to get, and every single one of these quirks will make your characters seem more real.

But your real litmus test to see whether your historical characters are realistic is my third point: do you like your hero and hate your villain? Because if you, the author, is not fully convinced by their actions and their motives, then what chance to your readers? You like with your characters every day – if you don’t believe in them, who will?

Emily Murdoch is a historical fiction writer whose first novel, Conquests: Hearts Rule Kingdoms, is available from Amazon in both ebook and paperback form. Her writing website can be found here (www.emilyekmurdoch.com) and her blog can be found here (www.emilyekmurdoch.blogspot.co.uk). Follow her on twitter @emilyekmurdoch, and like her on facebook (www.facebook.com/theemilyekmurdoch).

4 thoughts on “GUEST POST: Writing Realistic Historical Characters

  1. Hey this is kind of of off topic but I was wanting to
    know if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML.
    I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding skills so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience.
    Any help would be enormously appreciated!

    • Hey! Thanks for checking out the blog post. It will always be great to have new bloggers on the scene. I use blogger.com which does not require any programming knowledge at all 🙂

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