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  • Vince Santoro

What I love the most about historical fiction and why.

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

In suspense novels and thrillers, just like the protagonist, readers are dangled over a constant state of danger. In suspense novels and thrillers, like the protagonist, readers are dangled over a constant state of danger. Crime and mystery fiction are intriguing by nature and always seeks to get to the bottom of a situation. Historical fiction can have these same characteristics and more.

When meshed with historical facts, historical fiction takes us back to a time and place to help us understand what happened. Where history looks at the people and events that have shaped the world, historical fiction reaches the core of our humanity in a constant search for wisdom and value.

What I like about historical fiction is not only that it takes me to another place and time, but it balances research and creativity. A whole new story is created, a whole new world is uncovered.

But don’t be mistaken, writing historical fiction has its challenges. Once historical facts are researched, they are weaved into a story, utilizing a degree of creative liberties. This doesn’t mean the facts are distorted or changed. They are used to move the story forward or give a different perspective of what happened.

Then there are other lesser-known facts, used to conceptualize an event or situation. The purpose is to make the story readable, believable, or spark thought-provoking alternatives to traditionally known facts. Like an archaeologist, I like digging for those kernels of alternatives.

For example, when I was researching for my story, The Final Crossing which is set in the Ancient World, I was intrigued by the history of biblical events or phenomena. In my research I discovered that manna, the so-called “bread from heaven”, was a unique substance that grew on desert shrubs. After it fell to the ground, it was collected, ground and pounded into cakes and then baked. Bible passages tell the story of the Israelites eating manna, sent by God, during their trek across the desert. In my story the protagonist learns about this mann es-sama from Bedouins living in the desert. I tried to show that even what many believed to be a miracle from above can be explained in Nature.

Here’s another way to look at it, in a simplistic sort of way. A painter prepares his canvas and may choose to paint the backdrop first. Strokes of colours, accents in shades – all to help bring the painting to life. Then the painter adds what he or she wants to depict - the focus of the painting. We look at the finished work, perhaps of a man, his face wrinkled like old leather, his eyes staring in determination. In the background, grey clouds overlook a farmer’s corn field ready for harvest. The painting is about the man. The backdrop tells us something about the man’s world.

It’s the same with historical fiction. The history is a backdrop to what the story is about - the protagonist and his or her quest. The backdrop helps create an accurate representation of the protagonist, their world and the events that propel them towards their goal. It’s the canvas, carefully prepared to help bring characters and settings to life.

What I like most about historical fiction is, taking people, places and events from the past and propelling them into today’s world. With a stroke of imagination, the people, places and events tells a new story, one that makes us see the world differently.

Until next time!



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