By now, I think I’ve made it clear as to the kind of fiction I’m adept to writing. My go-to genres are contemporary fiction, magical realism, fantasy, and science fiction. However, in my little corner of the Internet, I haven’t been shy about dissecting other genres that I’m not necessarily the strongest at writing in; most notably young adult fiction and romance (even though ironically, I seem to have developed a bit of a skill for writing rom-coms).
There is one genre that, while I love consuming as an audience member, I would find difficult with creating myself, and that genre is historical fiction. I’ve talked about history and the likes of how it’s told; whether it’s through the very biased lenses we were taught in school or through consumable, fun nature such as in the likes of works like “Hamilton.” But never have I touched on works that are set in or around eras of the past, surrounding characters that are completely made up.
On the surface, perhaps it sounds like a no brainer. You create the characters with distinct personalities. Great! That’s already the way of the writer. But set those characters in the past; perhaps so far back that maybe your parents weren’t even born yet. Okay. So clearly I’ll have some research I need to do on what was going on at that time and in that place. That’s what the Internet is for. Perhaps said character(s) is not white or male or heterosexual, and therefore can’t live as freely or as authentically as they would now, and were under constant, nearly 24.7 threat of being victimized for being simply who they are. …Well sh**.
And look, it’s not to say that people of marginalized communities aren’t still dealing with obstacles built from such reasons now, but it was a hell of a lot worse how many years back. While yes, one can always research or even talk to someone who’s been through such lived experiences you’re trying to authentically capture in your story, even that can only go so far, which leads me to the next hurdle:
Either you weren’t around in said time period or you were, but you were too young to properly capture it. I think of authors like Celeste Ng and Jamie Ford, who are rightfully praised for their works of fiction that are very clearly set in time periods before their own existences were even ideas. I often wonder to what extent they did their research and, for their readers who were around in those designated time periods, how authentic their takes on them are. And while yes, actually living through that era gives you some leverage, it really depends on how well you remember it.
Just to give an example on the latter, I’ve applied for a TV writing program a couple of times already, where they give you a list of shows to base your required spec script off of. This was when “Fresh Off the Boat” was on the air, and so two separate times, I chose that show. “Fresh Off the Boat” is set in the 90’s, and even though I was around during that era, I was really young. So I definitely had to do my research on things like the news of the time, the technology back then, and pop culture; all aspects I didn’t pay mind to as I was living through that time.
These thoughts about writing historical fiction comes to mind, while I’m in the process of writing a script that can very easily fall in line with that. While I won’t say too much about what the plot is about (hopefully I’ll be able to another time), what I’ll say for now is that it follows two female international students from Southeast Asia, who’re traveling through the South, in the early 1950s (in other words, pre-Civil Rights Movement). There are a lot of factors to consider in the scenario I am writing that maybe wouldn’t be as strenuous if it was set in the present day. Regardless, it’s actually a story that’s very meaningful to me, which is why I’m taking on the challenge of writing it.
So to those who have a flair for writing historical fiction, I tip the top of my hat to you. I don’t know how you do it, but I thank you for your service. History needs to be told, even in the fiction we consume. While I’ll probably never be one of those writers who are adamantly writing in that genre, I undeniably admire those who can do it.
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