Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.
Believe it or not, there are many historical fiction works that make you stop and think. It could be the person or event the story is about or it could be the different angle an author takes. It could also be a sensitive topic addressed in a manner that has you wanting to look deeper. Historical fiction can make you think.
The Subject Matter
Most times historical fiction makes you think due to the subject matter being discussed. You might think you know all you need to know about the American slave trade, but if a writer tackles the subject matter from a different view point, all that could change. The writer gets you thinking which is a good thing.
Then there are subjects that you admit you know nothing about and not exactly overly curious until...you read an historical fiction piece on it. Then you want to know more. I know some things about the Inquisition. I’m not completely ignorant, but the story I read had me wanting to know more. I have to admit the book was my favorite historical fiction, but in my mind it was a success because it had me thinking further on the topic.
The Writing Style
Sometimes the historical fiction piece you are reading gets you thinking more from the writing style. You might be used to reading nonfiction works on the subject. In reading the historical fiction piece, you might something unique in that writing style that piques your interest.
I found a few interesting only because the style was done as a diary from the main characters perspective. By using this writing style, the author made the story extremely personal. It drew me in quickly and had me seeing everything through the eye of the main character no matter what ‘side’ of the issue they were on. No matter what a part of me will connect to the character because they are being so open with me.
Talented writers can use the writing style to help readers think. Even if it challenging old beliefs or touchy subjects, there are ways to write it where the reader can put aside their own stances and think deeper about it. That makes for good historical fiction.
I’ve seen some writers ‘rewrite’ history using some very creative what-if scenarios. These types of writing styles can really get a reader thinking beyond what they have accepted in the past especially if the writer has done extensive research and written it very well.
As you’ve read this, you might have thought of a few historical fiction pieces that did make you think over the years. I’ll give you a few examples of the ones I have encountered.
Jackie O: On the Couch
This book is a what-if scenario. What if Jackie Kennedy Onassis was sitting on my couch right now and could tell me about her life? What would she say? The story is based completely on her life but the story is written creatively by an author who has you forgetting it is fiction. The result was me looking for biographies of the classy former First Lady. The writing style was creative, unique, and had me wanting to know more.
The Return of Catsbury
The author took a lesser known Civil War/Reconstruction slave figure and created a story about his many accomplishments in educating former slaves. The fact that it was someone I had never heard of was intriguing especially since it was a real person. Everything was based on historical records with the author filling in sections to create a very interesting and inspiring story. The result was me looking for the ‘facts’ on the school and the founder.
The Secret Eleanor
I knew who Eleanor of Aquatine was, but I had never really studied up on her. When I read The Secret Eleanor, I found myself curious about this famous woman who changed all of Europe. This is another example of how creative an author can be with history. There was a small reference to a child in Eleanor’s history that appeared as her sister’s yet there was no mention about her pregnancy. The author created a scenario where Eleanor gets pregnant with her lover’s child. In order to avoid a scandal, she goes into seclusion and lets her sister pretend to be her. Did it really happen? Probably not, but the story was so well done I had to read more on the woman and the history surrounding her.
All Different Kinds of Free
I love it when authors take a small part of history and give it a life that gets our attention. This is the story of a runaway slave who was the reason for the famous court case Plusey vs. Ferguson. The sad part is that we know nothing about this slave aside from the name briefly mentioned in the court documents. Who was she really? What was her motives? What happened to her? The author gives you an idea of what might have happened.
Creativity Promoting History
I have read reviews by people who slammed the author because the story was not exactly right as history has said. That's the fun part about creative writing. It is fiction using facts as a foundation. In the story above about Queen Eleanor, the writer took a rumor at the time and created a story about it. There is no proof that it is true, but what if it was? The author has given the imagination an outlet for that. But if it has the reader searching for the truth on the famous queen, then the author made the reader think.
A fiction writer that has a reader searching for more on the topic has done a great job of creating interest and exploring all the what if's. Do you have stories that have made you think?
Pamela Crown on April 30, 2020:
Excellent Article, Rebecca! Herman Wouk's "The Winds of War" was like that for me.