Earlier this month I attended a meeting of the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild. The guest speaker was college professor, journalist, and author Steve Wiegenstein, who spoke about writing historical fiction and nonfiction. Steve's historical fiction novel Slant of Light, published by Blank Slate Press, is set in the Missouri Ozarks during the Civil War.
Visitors to my blog know what a voracious note-taker I am, especially when I hear someone who knows what they're talking about give advice on writing. They also know how I like to share what I've learned with other writers, so here are a few notes I jotted down during Steve's talk.
* In historical fiction, details and specifics matter, but they do not matter as much as the story.
* Goals for writing historical nonfiction (which were shared with Steve by another historical novelist) are: Entertainment and Empathy, not education (although it may become a side effect).
* In historical nonfiction, focus on the human drama of the characters.
* Nonfiction – bound by facts.
* Fiction – author has some wiggle room. For example: in Steve's book he did not mess with dates of a Lincoln-Douglas debate, but he did alter some dates and events of some non-signal characters to make the narrative more dramatic and exciting.
* Purpose of historical nonfiction: to tell a STORY.
* Avoid“Research Rapture," when a writer can’t bear not to share results of research.
*Keep in the compelling parts of research.
* Small details matter a lot (e.g. clothing - zippers or hooks in 19th century).
*EMPATHY separates rewarding historical fiction from throwaway books.
*He didn’t put the emotion in the first draft, but in subsequent ones.
*Lesson Learned for the sequel:
-- Don’t put your manuscript out for people to read too soon.
-- Let it lay for a couple weeks.
Hope my notes help shed some light on writing historical fiction and nonfiction. If you want to learn more, visit Steve Wiegenstein's blog.
P.S. In addition to all his other busy activities, Steve is the current President of the Missouri Writers' Guild.
Before his presentation at CCMWG he talked about the MWG conference, which will be Apr 26-28 in Maryland Heights. The MWG conference has a long list of speakers and topics of interest for writers. Unfortunately, a family event that weekend prevents me from attending the conference, although I might try to make it to the awards banquet on Saturday night. To learn more about the MWG conference, click here.