When I embarked on this journey to tell the stories of the people who had called Selma home, I had to first figure out how to write a novel! It couldn’t be that hard, right? So I bought a “how to write a novel” guide. A couple of them, in fact. The very first thing these instructional books advised was to select a writing genre. “Well, that’s easy,” I thought. “Historical Fiction!”
Not so fast, sister…
I’ve learned that nothing in the world of novel writing is that easy! From my limited experience, I’ve found that there are really two different kinds of historical fiction (there are probably many different flavors of historical fiction, but this is my simple observation).
There are novels set in historically accurate times and places where the characters are fictional. And there are novels where both time/place and characters are primarily historically accurate. Now, when I say “primarily historically accurate,” I am still talking about fiction, not non-fiction, where elements like dialog and how characters felt, what they thought, etc. are fictionalized if the author can’t find source material. A novel like Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” and Charles Frazier’s “Cold Mountain” are examples of the former; Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” and Gore Vidal’s “Burr,” examples of the latter.
Selma’s stories are about real people and real events. So I am definitely writing in the style of the latter—real places, real times, real events, and real people. But my Selma stories aren’t the stories of Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII, or Aaron Burr. Those were famous people whose letters and life stories were preserved and well documented. Selma’s people weren’t THAT famous. Much of their history has been lost.
Their stories have gaps and mysteries. How do I fill those gaps, solve those mysteries and bring them to life without compromising their stories and staying true to history? And, most importantly, how do I stay true to history while telling a riveting story that keeps you glued to every word on every page, that you can’t put down and that the last page of which you don’t want to read because you don’t want the story to end?
I’ll tell you, this is THE challenge I wrestle with every day I write. Check back and I’ll explain how I’ve approached the challenge of writing drama-filled historical fiction!