Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Steve Wiegenstein Sheds Some Light on Writing Historical Fiction and Nonfiction

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.


  1. I bet this was interesting. I've read Slant of Light and it is REALLY good. You can tell from the first page that it was a lot of hard and rewarding work. Thanks for sharing what you learned, Donna. :)

  2. Thanks for the info, Donna. I stopped everything and ordered Steve's book!

  3. Thanks for sharing the information you got from Steve Wiegenstein. Unfortunately, I will be in Birmingham at a conference that weekend...

  4. Thanks for sharing, Donna. I'm a note-taker from way back, too, but don't always go through my notes right away to turn them into helpful posts like yours!

  5. "Lay it aside" is the best advice ever. Thanks for sharing Steve's info.

  6. Hi Margo,
    You are welcome. I bought Steve's book but haven't read it yet.

    Hi Claudia,
    I'm looking forward to reading Steve's book, and I bet he will be happy to learn you've bought a copy too.

    Hi Sioux,
    Have fun in Birmingham. If it's a writing event, I'd love to know what you learned.

    Hi Mary,
    I've seen you take notes and have read some of your blog posts, which are always helpful.

    Hi Linda,
    You are welcome. I agree about letting it sit for awhile before sending out.


  7. Thanks, Donna. I love historical fiction - reading and writing it.


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