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Writing From Within History

May 18, 2008

One of the most prolific authors of the 20th century, Louis L’Amour, never changed the historical facts when he wrote stories and novels. That is an amazing statement, considering he wrote nearly 100 books plus many hundreds of short stories during his magnificent 40-year career as an author. It is also amazing when you consider he wrote primarily about the Wild West and Westward Expansion, areas in which the actual history seems to be re-written, revised, invented, distorted and changed on a monthly basis.

But L’Amour never bit on the tempting apple of rewriting history. He simply populated recorded western history with his characters and magnificent stories. As he wrote in his wonderful memoir, Education Of A Wandering Man, “Everywhere I look, there are people. With every person comes countless stories. That should be enough.” While it presented a greater challenge, it also enabled him to focus his prodigious storytelling skills on the people who explored, settled and battled for the west. Hundreds of millions of book sales later, it’s safe to say that L’Amour blazed a path for all writers who use history in their works.

Today, let’s try writing from within history. Take an historical event about which you want to write. Try to focus on a specific time, or moment, for which you have well-detailed research or knowledge. While changing none of those historical details, write a story. Have your character(s) move in and out of the setting, create conflict and resolution, and show us how they relate to their surroundings and the event in which you’ve placed them. Be sure that your identifying characteristics of the time — language, dress, transportation, means of communication, hairstyles, architecture —

are accurate. Do not deviate, not even on a single detail. When you write, see if you can feel the period in which you’re writing. If you can, be sure your characters do as well. 

This is a tremendously valuable exercise for historical writing. Keep practicing until you can write seamless historical fiction without changing or embellishing the known facts. And share with us a part of your story; post it!

For more on The Write Time

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