Writing historical fiction can be both rewarding and challenging at the same time. How do you write a story that captivates kids and teaches them a subject most have no interest in? The trick is to make the history lesson so subtle that readers are basically learning by osmosis.
When I choose a setting or time period, I consider two things: What kids will be learning in school and what would work well for drama — life and death situations and problems the protagonist would need to solve that lend themselves well to creating fast-paced plots.
Then I make it all about the characters — how they navigate through the time period and setting to solve their problems. It’s about what they perceive through their senses that makes the story come to life. What do they see? How are people dressed? What do the buildings look like? Cars? What do they hear? Music on the radio? What do they smell? You get it. Most importantly, show – don’t tell. It shouldn’t be an information dump.
Another thing that’s important is understanding the customs and culture of the time. How will the characters fit in and identify with them? Is there anything about the culture and customs that young readers would find intriguing? In my stories, I like to include folklore, mythology, and ghosts. Sure, they’re not completely historical, but they are part of the culture and something kids (and adults) would enjoy reading about.
How does an author learn about all of this? Research! Visit libraries, explore the Internet, and if possible, interview people who may have experienced the period first-hand or visited the places in your story. Make sure your facts are correct. This is especially true if you’re using the Internet. Information there isn’t always accurate.
If you’ve done all your homework and written an engaging story that kids love, you can feel a deep sense of satisfaction. Not only have you encouraged kids to read, but you’ve taught them something about the world in which they live. And maybe – just maybe – you’ve learned something, too!