We want to write a historical novel. But set where, and when? There’s a big, wide world to choose from, and thousands of years. Some places and times are more relevant to children than others. Unless we’re writing about Bible eras, the last few hundred years will probably catch their imagination easier than prior times. Although Nancy and I both enjoy writing middle grade novels about American Revolutionary War years, other less significant times can be exciting too, and even obscure events and places can be intriguing when presented in a keep-the-pages-turning style. Check out the American Girl History Mystery series to see what I mean.
After the where and when have been established for our story, we create an unforgettable character to be propelled through the plot we also create that is full of tension, surprises and even a few laughs. Add supporting characters including the antagonist—no two alike, and some but not too many subplots. Weave in details of setting and description that will make the time and place come alive. Again, for kids, we don’t want too much.
Where do we find those details? Research and more research. The broad picture is important, but we look for primary sources—letters, journals, even newspapers, for the details that can make us “feel” for the times. We might find conflicting records of events. History is, after all, written by people and even eyewitness accounts can vary from person to person. If we’re fortunate enough to visit or live in the location we are writing about, we can check out the local museums like Catherine suggested. Also, hunt up historical sites that have been preserved, such as the Palomares Adobe close by us in La Verne, Calif. We love it? Kids will, too!
-contributed by Shirley Shibley