COACHING HISTORIC FICTION NOVELISTS
by Alison Brooke Monfort
To write the best historic fiction, authors do a lot of research. That’s what it takes to master the details needed to create a story that can sweep us out of our own time and culture to another time and place altogether. My lovely novelists of historic fiction have done years of research, sometimes possessing an entire lifetime of study on their subject matter. Then at some point, they ‘see their story,’ like a buried jewel within the many tomes they’ve poured over, and the places of the earth where their research has taken them to stand and open their pores to the “time and place” of their obsession. I see my historic fiction clients as being on their own Hero’s Journey, struggling to birth a Story, to hone it and breathe life into it in such a way that they can successfully share the final outcome with those precious readers, and feel the weight of years of effort bound and complete in their hands.
My clients have their research down. I help them step back from possible information overload and see it all from a storytelling perspective: how they can define their characters and their dialogue to create sharp distinctions and reveal motive; how to play with plot structure and scene choices; to explore character arc, subtext and foreshadowing through deeper development of character back-story; to engage the senses in their descriptions and find the prose within themselves that makes historic “place” and characters come alive.
Great fiction means not just telling us that a man takes a road in Palestine during the time of Jesus, but telling us about the thick red dust on his capable feet as he walks with determination; about his robe chafing against his shoulder in the heat of a bright day; of the tinkling of bells hanging light in the air from the herdsman and his sheep up ahead. The best historic fiction transports us like a time-machine, making any time and place a “present moment” experience for the reader – viscerally and acutely alive.
When aspiring historic novelists come to me for story analysis and editorial services, I guide them in whatever way I can on the craft and elements of storytelling. Sometimes they are professorial in their depth of knowledge on their subject matter and new to crafting a feature-length story. All of them are intelligent, well-read, talented, inspired and determined; necessary qualities for any author to succeed. Whatever their background, I look for “heart” over “skill” within their manuscript. It is necessary to have both qualities in any successful work of fiction, but skill (or craft) is something that can be articulated, practiced and acquired, whereas heart is a much sublter matter. Often personally hard-won, heart is a quality that must be present in any “breakout” novel, which is what most debuting authors of all genres hope and seek to create – and what publishers ache to discover.
We can all cite lists of our favorite historic fiction; lists that I am sure would be lengthy and varied, as well as bearing some commonly-cherished titles. However, what all of our “favorites” will have in common is that their authors used research to create realism within stories built through the conscious use of fiction elements, deep characterization and thoughtful craft in prose. Only when all of these elements of good storytelling are in place do we have the potential for historic fiction that is loved, recommended and remembered by readers for years to come.
ABOUT BROOKE MONFORT
Brooke has been working as a writer since 1984, beginning with a career in advertising where she won awards for her work. She added manuscript editing and ghostwriting to her freelance writing services in 1996, later choosing to focus on fiction and screenplays. She has studied film since 2001 and completed a Sci-Fi screenplay, as well as collaborating on and “doctoring” multiple others. She currently focuses on her own writing projects, offers manuscript analysis and stylistic editing on all genres of fiction, doctors and collaborates on screenplays, and offers promotional consulting to her author and filmaker clients. Her motto is: “Sends Flowers After Killing Darlings.” For more on Brooke’s services and her writing, please visit: http://brookemonfort.wordpress.com