By: Vanessa Miller
I had this amazing idea for a historical, so as an author of over 50 books, I think, hey, I’m going to write a historical.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I sat down to write The American Queen. First of all, writing historical fiction takes hours and days and weeks of research. You not only have to research the people you are writing about, but the time period in which they lived. There is a whole undertaking of language and lay of the land knowledge, writers must uncover to affectively write an authentic story.
For instance, not many homes had running water or toilets in the 19th century, however I have read a few historical novels that add those items inside the homes of people who are depicted as poor and without means. If they were without means, then they wouldn’t have a toilet or running water, not even by the end of the 19th century.
I also had to become best friends with a dictionary source that provided the etymology or the origin of when a certain word or phrase was first used, https://www.merriam-webster.com/. As #1 Bestselling Author Lisa Wingate told me, “If it sounds cool, the word or phrase probably wasn’t used in the 19th century.” Sadly, I discovered the truth of that statement. I had to scrub my novel of several words and phrases that I thought were perfect for the sentiment I was trying to portray. But then discovered that the word hadn’t even been used until the 20th century.
But for me, research and learning language and word usage for the time period weren’t my only obstacles to writing an engaging historical. After I turned my novel into my editor, the manuscript that I thought was the best thing I’d ever written, with the added bonus of being about people who had actually lived during the 19th century… my editor drops a bomb on me. She told me she loved the novel, but thought I wasn’t allowing the reader to get close enough to the main character (Queen Louella). She then said, “I think this novel needs to be written in third-person, deep point of view.”
I was floored. I already write in third person, and love books that are written this way. But I had never written in deep point of view, where the writer literally becomes the character and there is not much of the narrator telling the story, but the character, living and moving through the story with his/her emotions laid open for the world to see.
This kind of writing stretched me in ways I had never stretched in my writing career. After over fifty novels written, I felt as if I had finally found the missing piece that would take my writing to the next level. I will forever be grateful for deciding to write a historical novel and for my editor suggesting deep point of view for my main character.
Because of the lessons I learned while writing The American Queen, I began researching other unsung people within the African American community. I caught the historical bug and am now working on my next book that will be set in the 1920s.
Now, I’m not saying that I’m done writing women’s fiction. I love my contemporary stories about boss women who learn and grow closer to God in the process. But I am saying that there is another level to historical writing that we women’s fiction authors don’t have to contend with, and research isn’t it. I research certain elements of all of my books. It’s all the other things I mentioned that must be learned to write eyes-glued-to-the-page, can’t-put-down historical fiction. So, if you are thinking of jumping over into the historical waters, be prepared to go deep and become best friends with an etymology dictionary.
Vanessa Miller is the bestselling author of over 50 novels. The American Queen is her first historical based on the unsung history of real people. Winner of the Best Christian Fiction Award from the African American Literary Award Show. She is currently published by Thomas Nelson (HarperCollins). You can find out more about Vanessa on her website: www.vanessamiller.com.